Editorial: Red flags suggest Richland Board of Elections should conduct a new director search

JUST HOW BAD must things get before the Board of Elections and Voter Registration realizes that it is on the brink of destroying any hope of restoring public confidence in Richland County’s voting process?

After its administrative staff oversaw arguably the worst election in modern S.C. history, the board had an obligation to exercise due diligence in selecting a credible director capable of reestablishing trust among voters and staging smooth elections. But the board proved to be as inept as those who botched the election, conducting a careless, sloppy search that has cast even more negative light on the elections office.

From the very beginning, the director’s search has taken one ill-considered turn after another.

Most recently, The State reported that the man hired as elections director failed to tell Richland’s Board of Elections that he works multiple jobs that consume at least 93 hours of his time per week.

That is far too heavy a load and raises legitimate concerns about whether Howard Jackson, Orangeburg County’s director of voter registration and elections, is the right person for this job. Even under the best of circumstances, the Richland elections office needs the director’s undivided attention; the fallout from the Nov. 6 debacle demands that the next director work overtime to rebuild the office’s image and credibility.

Mr. Jackson would have to jettison more than the Orangeburg County job in order to make the kind of commitment the Richland position requires. State staff writer John Monk reported on Sunday that federal records and Mr. Jackson’s application for the Richland job show that he works two other jobs in addition to being Orangeburg County’s director of voter registration and elections. Mr. Jackson’s 93-hour workweek does not include time spent as a licensed real estate salesman.

The most troubling part of this latest revelation is that Mr. Jackson didn’t reveal the full extent of his workload to Richland elections officials. While some knew Mr. Jackson worked as an Air Force reservist 16 hours a week in addition to his full-time Orangeburg elections job, they didn’t know about the 40 hours a week he told the federal government he works at a charity he established.

This is the second important piece of information that we have discovered Mr. Jackson didn’t share and at least the fourth bit of important information the board failed to discover about its favorite candidates for the position. When a board-appointed search committee winnowed the field to three finalists, it was oblivious to problems that existed with all three of the candidates, none of whom volunteered the information.

State staff writer Clif LeBlanc, through routine checks, discovered the problems in each candidate’s work history. In Mr. Jackson’s case, he had been investigated in 2008 for election-law violations involving alleged absentee ballot irregularities; the State Law Enforcement Division found no wrongdoing, but it’s inconceivable to us that anyone would fail to understand the need to share that information in a job interview. The other two candidates were not certified to run elections in their current jobs overseeing elections.

The other two finalists withdrew, which should have prompted the Board of Elections to start a new search. Instead board members hired Mr. Jackson, who didn’t think enough of their gesture to tell them about his overloaded schedule.

What else has he not revealed?

Perhaps Mr. Jackson would make a fine director, but his omissions have created a credibility problem that raises a red flag. Several, actually.

The credibility of Richland’s elections office has suffered enough.

Once again, we urge the Board of Elections to exercise wisdom and due care. It must scrap this process and start anew.