EXCLUSIVE: RICHLAND COUNTY ELECTION MESS

Finalist for election chief drops out

dhinshaw@thestate.comMay 6, 2013 

— One of the finalists for the Richland County elections director job dropped out Monday, leaving two S.C. candidates in the running to lead an office damaged by a lack of public confidence.

Adam Ragan, director of elections in Gaston County, N.C., said he had decided over the weekend that the job wasn’t “a good fit.”

He said his decision had nothing to do with his lack of certification to conduct elections in North Carolina, a credential he wasn’t eligible to receive there until working in a county office for three years.

The remaining candidates are Howard Jackson, director of Orangeburg County’s election office, and Patricia Jefferson, director of Sumter County’s election office. Issues have arisen about both.

It was unclear how Ragan’s announcement might affect the hiring of a new director to replace Lillian McBride. The Richland County Board of Elections & Voter Registration, which will make the selection, meets Wednesday.

Board member Elaine DuBose said Monday she’d like for the board to replace Ragan with another candidate for consideration.

“We should have three to choose from,” she said, “three people who are really outstanding.”

Board member Adell Adams said Monday she wanted to speak with her colleagues before deciding how to proceed. “I think we still have folks who are qualified for the job, so I feel good about that,” Adams said.

Member Herbert Sims said Monday afternoon he hadn’t heard anything about Ragan’s decision and referred questions to the elections office.

Efforts to reach board chairman Allen Dowdy were unsuccessful.

The fifth seat on the election board has been vacant since November. Monday was the deadline to submit applications to the Richland County legislative delegation, where spokesman James Brown said 45 people had applied. He did not know when the appointment would be made.

Among the remaining director finalists, Jackson was investigated in 2008 for election-law violations involving alleged absentee ballot irregularities, according to records from the State Law Enforcement Division. Employees in Jackson’s office told SLED they had advised their boss that he was violating election laws and that he directed them to follow his orders nevertheless, SLED records show.

But SLED found no wrongdoing, and the solicitor’s office closed the case without filing charges.

Jefferson is not certified by the state to hold elections.

The election board is looking for a new director after McBride was demoted following Richland County’s debacle of an election Nov. 6. A shortage of voting machines left voters waiting in line for hours. Many left the polls without voting, leading to appeals and lawsuits.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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