Editorial: Richland County lawmakers should appoint an all-new county elections board

June 5, 2014 

Some voters waited up to seven hours to cast ballots in Richland County in the November 2012 election.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

— THERE SHOULD be no debate about whether two members of the Richland County board that oversaw the worst election in modern S.C. history should be appointed to a newly constituted commission. They absolutely should not be.

While we don’t have enough details to declare that Adell Adams and Elaine DuBose were part of the problem, we do know that neither stepped out to be part of the solution. The rogue board they served on did about as much to damage the public’s trust and confidence in the election process as anyone could.

Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration members could have worked to restore the public trust and protect the integrity of elections following the Nov. 6, 2012, fiasco in which some voters were left standing in line for up to seven hours and others had to leave before they could cast ballots. Instead, they took one reckless, arrogant action after another, proving to be unfit stewards over a most sacred trust. But for a lawsuit that led to a judge declaring the 2011 single-county law merging elections and voter registration unconstitutional, the board might well be wreaking even more havoc today.

Following the court ruling, elections and voter registration were separated as they had been prior to 2011. But the two once again will be merged under a recently passed state law, which also gives state election officials critical oversight of South Carolina’s 46 county elections offices.

As Richland lawmakers prepare to appoint new board members, at least one legislator has said it’s good to keep holdovers to provide institutional knowledge. Ordinarily, we’d agree. But the reprehensible performance of the prior board has left a stench that can be removed only by bringing in fresh leadership.

Remember that while former elections director Lillian McBride shoulders much of the blame for the 2012 mess, the board failed to provide proper and adequate oversight leading up to the election. Afterward, the board refused to remove Ms. McBride, and following her resignation, it created a well-compensated deputy director’s slot for her.

The elections panel then proceeded to conduct a flawed, secretive search for Ms. McBride’s successor. When The State discovered problems in the work history of the three finalists, two dropped out; instead of doing the wise thing and starting a new search, the board hired literally the last man standing — Howard Jackson of Orangeburg County. But elections problems didn’t cease; 1,100 absentee ballots went uncounted in November, when a countywide library bond referendum and Columbia municipal elections were on the ballot.

After the disastrous 2012 election, this board did nothing but further erode the public trust. In January, it fired Mr. Jackson, with little explanation. Before departing, Mr. Jackson leveled some troubling accusations toward the elections panel, describing 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.

Richland County voters and taxpayers have endured enough. It is time for county lawmakers, who created this mess, to put the needs and interests of the people first.

The legislative delegation received 51 applications, including far more than enough credible individuals from which to choose a new, competent five-member board. Yet a committee that winnowed the list to 10 felt compelled to include Ms. Adams and Ms. DuBose. We urge lawmakers to exclude the two former board members from this list, thank them for their service and respectfully send them on their way.

Let’s have a clean break. Give voters a new hope and reason to believe that elections in Richland County once again will be reliable, that they will get to vote and that their votes will count.

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