April 1, 2014

New leaders for Richland elections?

It’s exciting to see that Richland County legislators can appoint a whole new Election Commission.

It’s exciting to see that Richland County legislators can appoint a whole new Election Commission.

Or perhaps I should say it’s exciting to see that Richland County legislators now realize — and acknowledge — that they can appoint a whole new Election Commission.

Because the fact that they can do this has been clear from the start, to anyone who bothered to check the law. That would be the law that was in place until Richland legislators passed that unconstitutional law in 2011 that merged the election and voter registration boards into that one disastrous board that brought us The Day Of The Interminable Wait To Vote … Or To Not Vote.

That one disastrous board that did all its work in secret and didn’t vet its candidates for election director and then fired the one it did choose after he insisted on obeying the law.

The one disastrous board that told that director to just ignore a bunch of uncounted absentee ballots he had turned up from the 2012 election. After he told us about that bunch of uncounted absentee ballots he found after the 2013 election.

Anyway, once Circuit Judge Thomas Cooper ruled that the 2011 law merging the two boards violated the state constitution’s ban on single-county laws, that meant we reverted to the status quo ante. Which says:

(A) For the purpose of carrying on general or special elections provided for in Section 7-13-10, the Governor, at least ninety days before the election, must appoint for each county not less than three nor more than five commissioners of election upon the recommendation of the senatorial delegation and at least half of the members of the House of Representatives from the respective counties. The Governor must notify the State Election Commission in writing of the appointments. The State Election Commission must verify that at least one of the appointees represents the largest political party and one represents the second largest political party as determined by the composition of that county’s delegation in the General Assembly or the makeup of the General Assembly as a whole if the county’s delegation is composed of only one party’s members. The commissioners shall continue in office until their successors are appointed and qualified.

The statute ( SECTION 7-13-70. Appointment of county commissioners of election; oath; training and certification) goes on to discuss the power of the governor to remove commissioners who refuse to complete a mandatory election commissioner training course. What it does not go on to do is spell out a term for commissioners. But as you can see above, it allows the governor to appoint new commissioners before every general or special election, which is to say at least every two years. So to the extent that commissioners have terms, they last for two years. At the most.

Similar language, by the way, applies to the less-discussed Voter Registration Board, whose members traditionally have doubled as the staff and which presumably will be headed once again by Lillian McBride.

A final note: Both statutes give the governor the power of appointment. Legally speaking, the governor can appoint anyone she wants. Practically speaking, the Election Commission appointments are made by the legislative delegations and the Voter Registration appointments are made by the county’s senators, and the governor rubber stamps them.

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