There are 508 local and legislative candidates on the ballots on Tuesday, and in many districts, the outcomes of the primaries decide who will serve in next year’s Legislature and other offices, regardless of the election in November.
This is not a new or even recent phenomenon. One consequence of South Carolina’s long history with a largely one-party political system is that most elections are decided in the party primaries. Legislative districts are drawn and refined, decade after decade, to be ever-safer for one-party control, which all but eliminates the potential for surprises in November .
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To be sure, voting in November is critical because electoral strength influences party agendas by identifying real electoral heavyweights in the Legislature. But the primary is where the average South Carolinian gets to exercise greater power, by deciding whether we’ll continue promoting a failed system through blind incumbency or inject fresh blood, new ideas and different names and faces to the process.
This principle applies whether you’re conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, rural or urban, black or white.
The SCEA Fund for Children and Public Education has reviewed incumbents’ records, questioned candidates, weighed their responses and issued a number of recommendations in the primaries, which you can find at www.thescea.org. To see a list of all the candidates, go to www.scvotes.org.
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The right to vote in party primaries was only guaranteed to all South Carolinians in 1948, thanks to a federal ruling from Judge J. Waties Waring of Charleston in Elmore v. Rice.
For allowing all South Carolinians to exercise their vote when it mattered, Waring was rewarded with a joint resolution introduced in the S.C. House — appropriating funds for one-way tickets for him and his wife to leave South Carolina, and naming a mule stable in his honor. This contemptuous reaction illustrates the importance that generations of lawmakers had invested in the party primary, and in restricting access to it.
Remember, South Carolina has an open primary system, which means voters can participate in either primary but will need to request the ballot they want.
Bernadette R. Hampton
President, S.C. Education Association