Editorial: Richland County, bus system must move ahead wisely

03/31/2013 12:00 AM

03/29/2013 5:39 PM

WE NEVER thought there was much chance that the S.C. Supreme Court would waste time hearing a dubious challenge to the Richland County transportation sales tax referendum.

While we understand — and share in — the utter disgust and anger voters still feel over the incompetent manner in which Richland County’s Nov. 6 election was handled, we know of nothing that would have justified voiding results and ordering a revote.

Election officials failed miserably in not providing the number of voting machines required by law, causing ridiculously long lines, but there is no punishment in the statute for such incompetence.

It’s an outrage that some voters had to leave for work or to care for other important matters without voting. But as the court apparently recognized, there is no provision in the law for a revote.

Nor, frankly, would it make sense to have such a provision. There’s no way to determine who showed up to vote but had to leave, versus those who never bothered to try. And tens of thousands of voters did endure, missing work and other important engagements, for four, five and even seven hours. And a majority said “yes” to increasing the local sales tax by a penny on the dollar.

As cold as it sounds, this is one of those regrettable occurrences for which there is no remedy.

The only response available is to make sure this never happens again. That means the Richland County Board of Elections must hire a capable director who knows how to run elections, and write plan for staging elections that includes ample safeguards. Equally important, county lawmakers must work harder for early voting and getting themselves out of the administration of elections.

Increasing the sales tax wasn’t our preference for funding the bus system; for years, we encouraged Columbia and Richland to find another funding source. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, we urged them to seek only a large enough tax increase to fund the bus system and not other projects such as roads, sidewalks and bike paths.

But in the end, the county asked for a full penny, and with no other options, we reluctantly supported the effort in order to ensure stable, adequate funding to meet the Midlands’ overriding need for a vibrant bus system. Whatever the wisdom, it’s hard to deny that, if administered properly, this effort can transform the county’s transportation network, enhance quality of life, improve traffic safety and stimulate the economy.

The Supreme Court’s action gives Richland County and the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority the green light to kick plans for improvements into high gear. The transit authority had planned to begin work last month on expanding service, which was cut drastically last summer, but held back because of the lawsuit.

As they proceed, the county and transit authority should do so with a full understanding that citizens have made a sizeable sacrifice. Officials are obligated to display sound fiscal stewardship and manage this more than $1 billion undertaking in an open, transparent manner.

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