South Carolina’s election laws are almost completely toothless and enforcement is a matter of foxes and henhouses, concerned state officials are saying in the wake of Richland County’s bungled election. “I know that this agency does not have enforcement authority,” Marci Andino, director of the State Election Commission said. “That is the structure the General Assembly wanted.” Local elections and voter registration boards are created by state law through county legislative delegations, with each running its elections independently of state government control – and accountability, state election officials say. “People can tell her to just go jump in the lake,” state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, said of Andino. Smith last week filed a bill that would weaken local boards, which he called “fiefdoms.” He wants to shift local control to Andino’s agency.
State elections office spokesman Chris Whitmire put the issue into sharp focus: “I know of no law that says who enforces (election laws) or what are the penalties if you don’t (comply).”
A review of state election laws by The State newspaper shows that unless a violation rises to the level of a crime – say, vote fraud, voter intimidation or impersonation – the statutes are silent on penalties. A handful of criminal cases against local elections officials have been prosecuted in recent years, however.
Citizens can complain through the courts. But lawsuits are expensive and can be slow. At least three suits have been filed in Richland County because of the Nov. 6 mess.