A lawsuit filed in South Carolina’s federal court is challenging the state’s winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes in presidential elections.
The lawsuit is one of four filed in various states by a coalition of law firms, activists and professors. They claim the current presidential electoral system is unconstitutional because it distorts the popular vote.
Other lawsuits were filed in Texas, California and Massachusetts.
Currently, the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote in South Carolina’s presidential elections is awarded all the state’s electoral votes, no matter how many votes the minority candidate garners.
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South Carolina has nine electoral votes in presidential elections. The number is based on the total number of members of Congress the state has – seven U.S. House members and two U.S. senators.
The plaintiffs in the S.C. lawsuit include former State Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg, and Sumter County councilman Eugene Baten and Benjamin Horne of Greenville, who the lawsuit says has voted Democratic in the last three presidential elections.
Defendants include Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, Republican Secretary of State Mark Hammond and Billy Way, chair of the State Election Commission.
The winner-take-all system cancels out the votes of all South Carolinians who vote for anyone but the winning candidate, the lawsuit says. It “gives one candidate’s party all of the electors, regardless of whether the winning candidate has garnered only 38.09 percent of the popular vote in South Carolina, as Richard Nixon did in 1968,” the lawsuit says.
The suit asks the court to declare the winner-take-all system unconstitutional and order the state to award electoral votes proportionately, based on the candidate’s statewide vote totals.
In the 2016 presidential election, that would have meant Democrat Hillary Clinton, who won 41 percent of the S.C. popular vote, would have won at least three of the state’s nine electoral votes. Instead, Republican Donald Trump, who won 55 percent of the state’s popular vote, was awarded all of the state’s nine electoral votes.
“In South Carolina, it is Democrats and African-American voters who are effectively disenfranchised by the winner-take-all system of selecting electors,” the lawsuit says.
“In ... the last 10 presidential elections ... 5,937,650 votes were cast for the Democratic candidate in South Carolina, but none of the 82 S.C. electors were awarded to the Democratic candidate,” the lawsuit says.
The problem is “not unique to South Carolina; it is also not unique to Democrats, as the same phenomenon occurs in reverse in heavily Democratic states,” the lawsuit says.
Some states already do use different systems to award electoral votes.
In South Carolina, the lead lawyers for the plaintiffs are former S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian and Chris Kenney of Columbia.