Elections commission

SC legislators select precinct worker for embattled elections board

cleblanc@thestate.comJune 11, 2013 

The newest member of the beleaguered Richland County elections board said Tuesday he hopes to be a healer of discord and distrust.

“I’m hoping we can find some civility and we can get this back on track,” said Samuel J. Selph, a 65-year-old state government retiree and veteran poll worker in the Woodfield precinct near Forest Acres. “I look forward to restoring the confidence in this electoral process.”

By a three-vote margin, the Richland County legislative delegation Tuesday afternoon selected Selph over University of South Carolina voting analyst Duncan Buell. Sens. Darrell Jackson’s and John Scott’s weighted votes comprised the majority of Selph’s 41 votes.

The delegation also chose interim board chairman Allen Dowdy to become the board’s chairman.

In a separate, voice vote, the 15 members of the delegation who attended Tuesday’s meeting in a Senate office building elected Rep. Joe Neal as the new delegation chairman. Neal replaces Jackson, a strong supporter of embattled former elections director Lillian McBride.

Under state law, Jackson and Scott get 13 votes each on delegation matters, almost three times more than the most heavily weighted House members, who get five votes each.

A third contender, Francees Levin, received 20 votes, including the support of Sen. Joel Lourie.

The delegation’s director, James Brown, said Selph is filling the term of former board chairwoman Liz Crum.

Further, Brown said, Tuesday’s vote means Selph not only will finish the balance of Crum’s four-year term, which ends March 15, 2015, but will get an additional four years.

Asked if Selph then will be on the board for almost six years, Brown said, “Exactly.”

That might compound consternation among some delegation members who already have complained that elections board member Herbert Sims has overstayed his term.

Rep. Mia McLeod has been the loudest critic. She argues that Sims’ selection in December was to fill Herbert’s term, which ended March 15.

Howard Jackson, the elections director in Orangeburg County, had his first face-to-face meeting with the delegation at the meeting. He made no public remarks.

His selection riled some on the delegation as well as some voters when he became the only finalist to be considered when two withdrew their names following a State newspaper story about their credentials after the screening committee had completed its interviews.

Jackson, 43, did not tell the screening panel that he had been investigated in 2008 by SLED following allegations of violating absentee ballot laws. Agents and prosecutors cleared him and the case was closed.

Later, the newspaper reported that records showed Jackson was working four jobs and logging 90-plus-hour workweeks. That, too, was not disclosed to the panel or the board, members said.

Sen. Jackson referenced that article Tuesday when he told the delegation that, “He’s the first black man to be criticized by the press and some elected officials for working too hard.”

McLeod and other delegation House members raised another question about Jackson and McBride on Tuesday.

They asked about reports that they have employment contracts – or might be negotiating for them. McBride oversaw what is widely considered the worst county election in South Carolina in modern history on Nov. 6 and is now serving as a deputy director.

Richland County employees normally don’t have contracts, and the county administrator as well as the chairman of County Council said they are unaware of employment contracts for either Jackson or McBride.

But no one at the meeting addressed whether the board has authorized contracts or is negotiating with Jackson or McBride.

When a State newspaper reporter approached Jackson after the meeting to discuss a contract, he responded, “I’m not going to do interviews until I come to Columbia June 24.”

That is his start date for the $78,000 position.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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