Cindi Ross Scoppe

Do you know about this question on Tuesday’s ballot? It’s not as simple as it sounds

Republican primary voters will be asked if they want to be able to register by party. The referendum is non-binding, which means it’s essentially a political poll run by the state of South Carolina to benefit the party. This question is part of the party’s effort to have taxpayers subsidize its recruitment of candidates and voters.
Republican primary voters will be asked if they want to be able to register by party. The referendum is non-binding, which means it’s essentially a political poll run by the state of South Carolina to benefit the party. This question is part of the party’s effort to have taxpayers subsidize its recruitment of candidates and voters.

SHOULD TAXPAYERS have to foot the bill for political polling for political parties? Should we be forced to subsidize the political parties’ party-building efforts?

It doesn’t really matter how you answer the first question, because we’ll be doing it once again Tuesday for both the Republican and Democratic parties. Whether we have to help pay for party-building efforts is up to the Legislature, and GOP officials hope to use the results of their tax-funded political poll to make the case that we should.

That’s not the way party officials put it, of course.

The tax-funded political polling comes in the form of “advisory referendums” that party officials will require the State Election Commission to place on Tuesday’s primary ballots. These “referendums” carry no legal weight and should not be allowed. But they are allowed because the only people who could stop them are legislators, too many of whom are more interested in advancing their own personal and political agendas than protecting the integrity of the voting process.

If you’re confused about why anyone would object to the Republican and Democratic parties putting questions on the Republican and Democratic primary ballots, understand this: The primaries do not belong to the parties. They belong to the state of South Carolina, which runs them, with public funds. Even back when the parties ran the primaries, the primaries were still an official part of the state election process.

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Cindi Ross Scoppe


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Putting questions on primary ballots has sometimes been used to entice more voters to the polls (although I doubt this year’s questions will do that). Usually, though, their main purposes are to 1) help party officials figure out what their most loyal voters think about issues — that is, to serve as a political poll that the party otherwise would have to pay for, and 2) pressure elected officials into taking whatever action party leaders manipulate voters into supporting through their carefully worded poll questions.

The most notorious use of ballot questions was in 1994, when Republican Party officials torpedoed efforts by Republican legislators to resolve the Confederate flag wars a decade early, by leaving out the compromise position that was nearing approval in the Legislature. Riled-up flag supporters swamped the polls to support keeping the flag on the dome and frightened GOP legislators away from moving the flag from the State House dome to a monument on the grounds.

This year’s Democratic ballot questions ask fairly straightforward questions about legalizing medical marijuana and requiring the governor to accept any federal revenues offered to support and expand Medicaid.

One of the GOP ballot questions asks voters: “Do you believe that South Carolina’s tax code should be brought into conformity with the new Trump tax cuts in the federal tax code for maximum simplification and to lower the overall tax burden on South Carolina taxpayers and businesses?”

I shall be kind and call that question funny. Bringing South Carolina’s tax code into conformity with the new Trump tax code would actually increase state income taxes, by $204 million a year. The Republican-controlled Senate hasn’t passed tax conformity because Republicans don’t want to increase state taxes.

But beyond being misleading, this question doesn’t merit any more condemnation than the Democrats’ questions.

The same cannot be said of the Republicans’ other ballot question: “Do you believe that voters should have the option to choose to affiliate with a political party when they register to vote or change their voter registration in South Carolina?”

The bill that the question supports (H.4418) wouldn’t require voters to register by party and wouldn’t restrict who can vote in political primaries. But don’t be misled by this one bill. The party’s ultimate goal is to disenfranchise all of us who don’t swear allegiance to a political party, by ending South Carolina’s practice of allowing voters to participate in whichever primary they prefer.

As Republican Party Executive Director Drew McKissick put it when he announced the ballot question: “It’s a simple matter of whether or not people should have the right to associate and work together to advance their beliefs. We believe that they do, and we believe that should include political parties as well.” Mr. McKissick went on to explain that the state is not allowing voters to self-identify with a political party, thus creating an “undue barrier” between political parties and voters.

That’s an extraordinary thing for anyone to say with a straight face, but particularly a Republican, since Republicans believe that we should take responsibility for our own actions. That we should stop being whiny and stop depending on the government. Which is precisely what Mr. McKissick is doing.

What state party officials are complaining about is that South Carolina’s government does not allow voters to self-identify with a political party on official state government documents. They’re complaining because the government does not facilitate the efforts of like-minded voters to identify each other.

There is nothing to prevent Republicans from associating and working together to advance their beliefs. Nothing to prevent the party from facilitating that association by holding recruitment drives and using Facebook and Twitter — and government-provided lists of people who vote in Republican primaries.

But apparently the party wants the government to do all of that work for it.

Don’t help it. The best way to respond to these primary questions is to vote no — or, if it’s not a yes/no question, opposite how the party wants you to vote. That’s doubly true in this case.

Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.