All 5 on Richland’s election board could be replaced

dhinshaw@thestate.com March 31, 2014 

Richland County could end up with an all-new election board after Rep. James Smith determined Monday that the terms of the three remaining members had expired.

One of Richland County’s election board members, Herbert Sims, gave up his seat Wednesday. The board that oversees the voter office already had one vacancy.

Then Smith said his research revealed the terms of chairman Allen Dowdy and members Adell Adams and Elaine DuBose had expired.

“It could be, potentially, an all-new board,” said Smith, a lawyer who has been helping with delegation efforts to comply with a court ruling over board membership. Any or all of the three could ask to be considered for reappointment, Smith added.

The revelation comes as local legislators attempt to straighten out membership of the elections board after last year’s court ruling that its 2011 merger with the voter registration office was unconstitutional.

In a letter made public Monday, Dowdy was asked by Rep. Joe Neal, chairman of the Richland County legislative delegation, to find out whether his colleagues are “willing and eligible” to continue serving.

Dowdy has served continuously since 1996 and both Adams and DuBose since 2000, said James Brown, the director of the legislative delegation office.

Smith said the last time the legislative delegation reappointed anyone to the elections board was more than four years ago. That means their terms had expired when the boards were merged in 2011, he said, and that all three continued to serve under “holdover status.”

Efforts to reach each of the three Monday were unsuccessful.

The makeup of the five-member board has been of intense public interest: Voters were outraged over the November 2012 election, when the elections office provided too few machines, forcing some voters to wait in line as long as seven hours. Others went home without casting a ballot. It was considered one of the worst election debacles in state history.

Since then, the board has hired – and fired – a director who accused them of political cronyism and meddling.

When legislators announced a vacancy on the board in February, 40 people applied.

Among them were Daniel Rickenmann, who said Monday for the board to restore the public trust, it needs leadership from members willing to conduct business in public.

“It’s just been a disaster,” said Rickenmann, a former member of Columbia City Council.

Rep. Smith said he would expect the delegation to start over in the appointment process, meaning anyone interested in serving on the board would have to reapply. Monday evening, it was not known when applications would be accepted.

Sims did not give a reason for his resignation. But since he was seated in 2012 – after the illegal merger – the court ruling voided his appointment, Smith said.

The other vacancy was created when Samuel Selph resigned from the elections board last month to become interim director of the elections office.

Meanwhile on Monday, lawyers for both the elections board and the S.C. Public Interest Foundation worked on a proposed consent order to submit to Judge Thomas Cooper.

The judge had given the two sides until Tuesday to submit paperwork outlining details on separating the elections and voter-registration offices.

Cooper ruled that merging the two county offices was unconstitutional because it was accomplished by a single-county law, not statewide legislation.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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