S.C. Elections

Officials changing gears to advance SC elections board bill

dhinshaw@thestate.comMay 21, 2014 

— Legislators are shifting strategies to finish work on a bill to unify how county election boards are set up.

Sen. Chip Campsen said proponents are looking ahead to Wednesday for a House vote on a bill giving state election officials authority to perform county functions in some cases.

Campsen was one of six legislators on a conference committee that, he said, has informally agreed on new wording on a bill addressing the patchwork of boards that manage elections across 46 S.C. counties. But instead of working through the conference committee, Campsen said, legislators will consider amendments to a similar bill now awaiting action in the House.

A lawsuit over the way legislators created Richland County’s board foreshadowed problems that could pop up across the state, with primaries just weeks away.

“Everybody liked the idea of the State Election Commission getting involved in county election results when there are problems and when there are certain triggers for their oversight,” said Campsen, R-Charleston.

He said the wording of the proposed amendment was not set, but that there’s general agreement that the state should be able to audit election results in a county office unable to certify them within 48 hours of an election.

The bill in the House would require a simple majority of votes in both the House and Senate, Campsen said; approving the bill as it came out of conference committee would have a higher threshold, a two-thirds majority.

Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, another key proponent, said he does not foresee a hang-up over the audit provision.

“I understand they’re very, very close to having it resolved,” he said.

The six members of the conference committee met just once, on May 8. Two subsequent meetings, including one this week, were cancelled.

Martin said “everybody’s been warned” that legislation must be passed this session to avoid lawsuits over the various local laws setting up county elections boards.

In 38 counties, once-separate elections and voter registration boards have been combined – the method preferred by the state office for efficiency’s sake. A merged board is the basic provision of the favored bill.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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