Editorial: Every member of Richland County’s reckless elections board should resign

March 1, 2014 

— THE RICHLAND County Board of Elections and Voter Registration is an agency run amok, and its members are unfit stewards over a most sacred trust. Since no one has the power to remove them, they all should resign immediately.

This board proved to be inept and ineffective long ago, but the reckless and arrogant behavior former elections director Howard Jackson attributes to its members is a bridge too far. Although Mr. Jackson produced no evidence to back up his allegations, the board’s behavior before and after firing him on Monday gives us every reason to believe most if not all of them.

Mr. Jackson described a board whose members unlawfully meddled in personnel matters, showed little desire to ensure accurate, reliable elections and made pleasing local lawmakers who appointed them their mission.

Among the most troublesome of his allegations is that board members told him to do nothing when he reported that hundreds of uncounted absentee votes from the 2012 general election had been discovered.

The former director also said board members told him they had decided in executive session that they would oversee hiring and firing, not him. Even after the county attorney told the board that was the director’s job, the panel insisted it be notified of any action he took, and “notification became ratification.”

Mr. Jackson said his deputy director of elections “did not know the job” — a situation that threatened the integrity of elections — but that he repeatedly was told to “stand down” from disciplining Garry Baum because he was the brother-in-law of Sen. Joel Lourie.

Mr. Jackson said ultimately he chose to fire Mr. Baum and search for a competent deputy, which was what prompted his own firing. When he identified a replacement, he said, the first question from the board was about the candidate’s race, not his qualifications.

We don’t know how well Mr. Jackson did his job, but the board’s refusal to respond to his claims is telling. Frankly, its spotty history and the secretive, cavalier way it has mishandled the public’s business lend credence to many of the allegations.

This board has done nothing to rebuild public trust and confidence since elections officials oversaw the worst election in modern S.C. history, on Nov. 6, 2012; in fact, its poor stewardship has exacted further damage.

When board members met on Wednesday, we assumed a response to Mr. Jackson’s claims was forthcoming. Instead, the board ordered him to leave immediately — two days earlier than previously agreed — and installed one of its own, Sam Selph, as interim director. With the June primaries looming and no proven professional in place to oversee elections, there’s every reason for voters to worry.

Enough. This entire regime, including Mr. Selph, must resign so a competent board can be assembled to begin restoring the public’s trust and confidence — and, no small thing, prepare for the upcoming elections. County legislators should demand change.

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