Editorial: Selph offers breath of fresh air on Richland election commission

January 5, 2014 

Karl Hermann casts his vote for the library referendum at Spring Valley High School; the ballots of more than 1,100 people who voted absentee were not counted.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

— WAS THAT a voice of reason, common sense and (gulp!) accountability we heard coming from a member of the Richland County election commission?

While the commission as a whole continues to operate in secrecy and denial, it was a welcome sight to see Samuel Selph, the newest member of the five-person board, openly acknowledge that the board needs to begin operating in the sunlight so that Richland County voters and taxpayers know what is going on.

Following a recent meeting, Mr. Selph asserted that the people of Richland County “have a reason and a right to be outraged” that the office the board oversees did not count more than 1,100 absentee ballots in the county’s November library referendum. He went on to say that he was devastated by the mistake and that “we failed, but we are going to get this done.”

“It seems when we get one thing worked out, something else pops up. … This is not rocket science,” Mr. Selph said. “We only have two or three elections a year. Can’t we do that?”

After the cavalier, secretive manner in which the board has operated in the 13 months since one of the worst election debacles in modern S.C. history, Mr. Selph’s remarks serve as a prescription for how the board should operate.

Mr. Selph, appointed by local legislators in June, indicated that he has told fellow members that.

“I impressed on all the board members that we should come out and have a conversation,” he said. “If we just go in that back room back there and hold our meeting, nobody knows what’s going on. … We need to be open.”

That’s an understatement. The elections board was far too quiet following the Nov. 6, 2012, debacle. It met behind closed doors during its search for a new director following the resignation of Lillian McBride, didn’t share details about the search as required by law and failed to properly vet the candidates. And to date, the board and its director have refused to say who is at fault for absentee votes going uncounted in the Nov. 5 election, or even whether that person was disciplined. As we have said in the past, that person should be identified and fired.

Even as Mr. Selph was sharing his concerns with the public and the media, his fellow board members were trying to silence him, telling him that only board chairman Allen Dowdy was supposed to speak publicly — an outrageous idea that is frankly the opposite of how members of public boards are suppose to operate. Even if such gag rules were appropriate, the fact is that Mr. Dowdy and the board haven’t been near as open as they need to be. Yes, the board issued an apology for the Nov. 5 absentee mess via a letter to the editor, but it continues to be far too secretive.

This community has been waiting for more than a year for a sign that elections officials take their positions seriously and intend to work to regain voters’ confidence and restore integrity to the election process. Until now, little has suggested that was forthcoming.

We encourage Mr. Selph to continue speaking up for the voters of Richland County, which is what he was appointed to do. Others should join him — or step down and let someone willing to step up and be accountable serve.

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