COLUMBIA, SC — A judge has given Richland County legislators about a week to resolve their legal problems with the makeup of the county elections board.
During a 15-minute hearing Friday, Judge Thomas Cooper urged the Richland County legislative delegation and its last-minute lawyer, Alex Postic, to move quickly. He said he expects a solution before April 1.
“You’ve got a primary election to be concerned about,” the judge warned. “The window’s pretty narrow.”
Last year, Cooper ruled in a separate lawsuit that the 2011 merger of the Richland County elections and voter-registration offices was unconstitutional because it was accomplished by a local law.
Friday, Greenville lawyer Jim Carpenter and his client, Rusty DePass, asked the judge to force the board to stop functioning.
Instead, the judge took their request under advisement and placed the onus on Postic to submit a proposed order both sides could agree upon.
Postic said his goal would be “to finalize this matter completely,” and he noted there are elections board members available to reappoint.
Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, said the order will specify who remains on the board, their terms and how many positions need to be filled.
A criminal lawyer, Postic said he was hired by the elections office and was “extremely new to this,” having met with his clients for the first time Thursday.
He agreed, however, that based on Cooper’s previous ruling, the elections board has been acting without authority since Dec. 30.
“Frankly, I don’t think we’re that far apart,” Postic said.
Watching in the courtroom were Common Cause director John Crangle and Chris Kenney, a lawyer who has applied for an available seat on the elections board. Smith, a lawyer, conferred with Postic during the hearing.
When it’s all said and done, Smith said the delegation could end up appointing two to three new members of the five-person elections board.
Three members who served on the elections board in 2011 are members still: Adelle Adams, Allen Dowdy and Elaine DuBose. However, Adams’ term had expired and she was continuing to serve in a hold-over status when the offices were merged, Smith said.
That means she may have to reapply if she wants to remain on the board.
Smith said the delegation is “thrilled” by the number and caliber of people willing to serve on the board. A call for applicants generated 40 volunteers; their names were released to the public Friday, on the instruction of Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland, and chairman of the legislative delegation.
There also will be a separate voter-registration board, a group made up of county staff members.
Smith said 39 counties, including Richland, had merged the two functions and stand to be challenged unless the General Assembly acts this year.