Editorial: Richland County Council right to reject request to fund new elections position

November 17, 2013 

— WHILE RICHLAND County Council has no choice but to purchase 170 new voting machines, the 11-member body was wise to reject a request to fund a new position in the Elections and Voter Registration office.

The council has been more than generous in funding the office since county legislators merged the elections and voter registration departments and required the council to fund the new agency at a bloated level. Not only has the office been funded as the law mandates, but the council has gone beyond that.

That didn’t prevent elections director Howard Jackson from asking recently for even more taxpayer dollars to grow his office.

After the botched election of 2012, the council was compelled to buy enough voting machines and equipment to comply with state law requiring one machine per 250 voters. But while it dipped into county savings for that $615,600 out-of-cycle expense, it refused Mr. Jackson’s request for $42,500 for a new voter-outreach coordinator.

The coordinator, which Mr. Jackson deems critical, would organize voter-registration drives, educate voters on 25 new precincts to be used for the first time in June and make sure citizens get photo voter-ID cards. That person also will update election websites and send out information on social media.

The council’s refusal to fund the position prompted Mr. Jackson to say he will find the money in his $1.2 million budget. That’s absolutely where it should come from.

Taxpayers shouldn’t have to bail this office out yet again. In case you’ve forgotten, it was the target of protests and lawsuits after it oversaw one of the worst election debacles in modern S.C. history. But instead of shouldering the cost for the mess they made, as they should have, election officials convinced County Council to pay more than $100,000 in legal bills. That included $9,350 for the attorney of Lillian McBride, the former director who managed the fiasco and should have paid for her own lawyer. Ms. McBride’s attorney helped negotiate against the elections office to secure a new county job for her.

Frankly, we don’t understand why the elections office, with its 15-member staff, can’t handle the extra work. In 2012, County Council granted Ms. McBride additional money — above what was required by law — to transform two part-time positions into full-time slots. The money was to pay for a precinct clerk and voter representative and to help with any increased workload the state’s new voter ID law would bring.

Could it be that elections officials’ insistence on retaining Ms. McBride at a generous salary following her resignation helped create this problem?

Whatever the case, county taxpayers have done more than enough. It’s the job of elections officials to be good stewards over what has been provided as they oversee the county’s voting process.

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