The question of an additional $1 million for the Richland County Voter Registration and Elections office will on Tuesday come again before County Council members, who earlier this month expressed a litany of concerns about the mid-year budget request.
Elections director Samuel Selph has told council that his office needs to nearly double the budget that was set for it at the beginning of the financial year last July or else forgo operational expenses that include batteries and maintenance for voting machines, as well as phones and printers.
Originally, Selph came to council requesting nearly $1.2 million for the remainder of the financial year, which runs through June 30, in addition to the more than $1.2 million granted to his office last spring for this budget cycle. A new version of the request received by council before Tuesday’s meeting asks for $1 million.
Reimbursements for the costs of running elections from the county’s municipalities and the State Election Commission should bring in about $855,000 to go toward the elections office’s shortfall, according to new estimates provided to council. Those reimbursements typically would go back into the county’s general fund budget, but council is considering rerouting the money directly to the elections office.
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The remaining $229,000 being requested could come from the county’s savings account.
Council debated for an hour before giving tentative approval to the originally requested $1.2 million on the first of three necessary votes on March 1. But council members demanded more detailed information about how the elections office has spent and plans to spend its money before Tuesday’s second-reading vote.
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What they’re saying
County elections director Samuel Selph
“We have to be ready when elections come around. Just because we don’t have the financial base to fund this agency – what we do in our agency is mandated by the state and the federal government. ... We’ve got to find the money from somewhere.”
Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson
“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that voter registration gets every dime they need and to make sure that they have the equipment, the personnel and everything they need to run that office efficiently. However, I don’t see a spreadsheet that’s showing me where and how these dollars have been accumulated.”
Councilman Greg Pearce
“We budget based on the revenue we have. Unfortunately, it’s not enough revenue to give everybody what they want. ... This isn’t the only department that’s underfunded. ... It’s not that we don’t want to give you the money. It’s that we didn’t have the money to give you to begin with.”
Councilman Norman Jackson
“It’s unfortunate that we are bound by federal laws and state laws and our legislators continue to cut local government funding. ... We have to do it whether we like it or not. I’m not prepared to tell the public that some of you will be disenfranchised or you will have long lines (to vote) because we failed to fund the election commission properly.”
Councilman Bill Malinowski
“I think before we start paying anyone’s bills that we start to see some detailed itemized listings, some receipts for these items. ... I’m not so sure they’re budgeting their funds properly. They can claim that they’re not being provided enough money, but a lot of entities in the county do that and manage to get by.”
Councilman Seth Rose
“I do think this is, obviously, an essential service that must be provided. But then the other side of this I struggle with is the fact that state law gives us no financial oversight over the office whatsoever to make sure that the funds are being spent properly.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Richland County Council will take up an unusual mid-year request for additional funding for the County Voter Registration and Elections office
WHEN: 6 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: County administration building, 2020 Hampton St., Columbia
Is Richland’s elections office overfunded?
Here is how Richland County’s voter registration and elections current budget compares to the state’s other largest counties, both of which have more registered voters than Richland County:
Richland County: $1,248,584, including about $1 million for personnel expenses and $210,000 for operating expenses. 239,178 registered voters, according to the state Election Commission.
Charleston County: $1,958,597, including about $1.3 million for personnel expenses and $577,000 for operating expenses. 261,437 registered voters, according to the state Election Commission.
Greenville County: $1,026,631, including about $825,000 for personnel expenses and $111,000 for operating expenses. 293,182 registered voters, according to the state Election Commission.