SC legislators meet in September — not Friday — to choose election board

08/15/2014 12:00 AM

08/15/2014 12:29 AM

Richland County legislators will meet Sept. 5 to choose new members of the county elections board.

“Come hell or high water, we will hold a meeting and it will go forward,” said an impatient Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, who forced the issue by calling a meeting for Friday — then deferred to the delegation’s chairman, Rep. Joe Neal, after Neal set the meeting for September.

Smith said it was the consensus of the legislative delegation to meet at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 5 in Room 326 of the Blatt Building, on the State House grounds. The meeting is open to the public.

The delegation has before it the names of 10 finalists for the board, which will oversee the Nov. 4 elections.

Importantly, the new board will be responsible for hiring a director for the county office of elections and voter registration, which has been led by an interim director since February.

The selection of an election board has been of intense public interest, after an elections debacle in November 2012. Fifty-one people applied for the five seats advertised. But legislators have lacked the sense of urgency shown by the public. And state law gives them until December to appoint the board, so they’re well within the mark.

Neal said he expects to choose either five or seven board members from the finalists. The law allows a maximum of nine members, but Neal said no one has shown interest in a board that large.

“We’ve had some preliminary discussions about that among ourselves,” he said.

The law also requires that at least one member of the elections board be a member of the minority party, which in Richland County is Republican.

The 17-member legislative delegation uses a system that gives the votes of senators more weight than House members when it comes to making the appointments. That’s because senators have larger districts so they represent more people, Neal said.

Richland County’s senators are Darrell Jackson, Joel Lourie, John Scott and Thomas McElveen III, all Democrats; and John Courson, a Republican.

Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the state election office, said new board members could get some basic training between Sept. 5 and Nov. 4 — “at the very least poll manager training, so they know what poll managers do and how that’s supposed to work.” And they would have authority to certify election results, Whitmire said.

But getting certified as an election board member is usually a year-long process. Board members are given 18 months to complete the coursework, he said. Topics include board duties, absentee voting and office procedures, he said.

Smith said he was only willing to capitulate on the date of the meeting after making sure that a quorum of delegation members would attend. “It will be held,” he said. “There will be no changing it.”

He also verified that new board members could undergo basic training by the state elections office before Nov. 4.

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