Day, Richards: Richland County election was yet another disaster

November 27, 2013 

— When the S.C. Election Commission found that the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration Board failed to count 1,114 absentee ballots in this month’s election, the chairman of the commission said “We did have some glitches” but the election “overall went good.”

With all due respect, it did not. We had a disastrous 2012 election, and now we have a seriously inadequate election in 2013. There is nothing good about this.

We are told that a process was in place to prevent this, but the procedures were not followed. The current county elections director, Howard Jackson, has said that former director Lillian McBride was responsible for oversight of counting absentee ballots, but declined to identify the person responsible for the failed election. That response is simply not acceptable. However, that issue — while important — is only the tip of the iceberg.

The underlying problem is the system through which South Carolina’s county election offices are overseen. County commissions are appointed by the members of the General Assembly who represent some part of the county, although county councils must fund the offices. These election commissions are accountable only to the legislative delegation. In Richland County the delegation has demonstrated a disturbing unwillingness to hold the county Elections Commission and its personnel accountable for repeated failures.

One bill filed last year purports to fix this problem by changing oversight of elections to the secretary of state’s office. However, the state Election Commission was not the problem last time, and it is not the problem this time. In fact the state Election Commission discovered the problem with the uncounted ballots in the Richland County election.

South Carolina is fortunate to have a capable, professional, non-partisan office overseeing elections and should not change that. What we do need to change is the authority and budget we give to that state office. With appropriate authority and funding, the State Election Commission could implement a system of pre-election and post-election audits that would better ensure adequate performance by county election offices. There are excellent models for such a system, for example in Maryland.

The other very important change that is needed is to remove legislative delegations and their appointed commissions from the election process. County councils, locally elected by and accountable to the people most affected, should have the authority to direct, staff and manage county election offices.

These changes are essential. We cannot wait for the inevitable: yet another disastrous election failure.

JoAnne Day

Co-President, League of Women Voters of South

Carolina

Columbia

Susan Richards

Co-President, League of Women Voters of South

Carolina

Charleston

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