Dueling delegation meetings to select election board members

08/04/2014 9:23 PM

08/04/2014 9:24 PM

A Richland County legislator, no longer willing to wait to pick a new county election board, has taken matters into his own hands.

Monday, Rep. James Smith sent out an Aug. 15 meeting notice — and an explanation for why he was going around the delegation’s chairman to schedule a meeting.

Smith, sponsor of the law merging elections and voter registration boards statewide, said “we must act” to complete the legislative process. He said a newly appointed board needs to oversee Nov. 4 elections.

Smith, D-Richland, asked the 16 members of the county legislative delegation to get together at 11 a.m. Aug. 15 to select up to seven members of a new county election board. The meeting will be in the Blatt Building, room 516.

“I’m going to try to leave there with a decision” on the names to send to the governor for appointment, Smith said.

The chairman of the delegation, Rep. Joe Neal, said Monday he’d made numerous efforts but had trouble finding a suitable meeting date because of scheduling conflicts.

Neal said he sent out a memo Monday, urging colleagues to attend a delegation meeting he set for 11:30 a.m. Sept. 5. The meeting will be in the Blatt Building, room 425.

“This is something we’ve been working on continuously,” Neal said, adding that he was “really surprised” Smith organized a meeting without talking to him first.

Without action in selecting new members, three longtime board members have continued to oversee county elections, despite criticism of secrecy, botched elections and ham-handed management decisions under their watch.

The delegation’s call for volunteers earlier this year generated more interest than any other in memory — 51 applicants, including sitting members Adell Adams and Elaine DuBose, each serving since 2000. A committee chose 10 finalists.

“I would’ve hoped they had met before this time, since it’s so crucial,” said Mickey Spillane, a lawyer who applied for a seat on the board.

“It’s crucial to get the board set up ... and give the public some assurance that there’s new blood in there. Because that’s what the public was clamoring for — new blood, a change of faces.”

The law stipulates that the newly merged boards be in place within six months, or by Dec. 2.

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 debacles in state election history.

After that, the board hired – and fired – a director who accused them of political cronyism and meddling. The board then picked one of their own, Samuel Selph, as interim director.

Smith said the delegation has no bylaws or governing rules that would affect his ability to call a meeting. He said he has commitments from seven colleagues to attend. He asked those who can’t make it to send a proxy, a document giving someone else the authority to cast a vote on one’s behalf.

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