South Carolina’s much-watched first-in-the-South Republican presidential primary could become a far less important first-in-the-South caucus.
Without the help of the state, the party may not legally be able to hold a primary in early 2012, Chad Connelly, the recently elected chairman of the S.C. GOP, said Friday.
Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to veto part of a state budget proposal, now on her desk, that could partially pay for that primary. Connelly is concerned that veto would mean the State Election Commission could not help run the GOP primary, forcing the party to opt for a caucus.
Switching to a caucus would end the state’s three-decade tradition of holding the first-in-the-South primary. That primary’s importance has been bolstered by state Republican voters’ record of picking the eventual GOP nominee in every race since Ronald Reagan in 1980. The state also would lose national exposure, prestige and millions of dollars that campaigns, media and others spend during the event.
… Connelly said changes to federal law mean the S.C. GOP can no longer use less-expensive paper ballots in its primary, as it has did before the state took over the primaries in 2008. Instead, S.C. GOP attorneys and others believe federal law requires the use of paid poll workers and the state’s electronic voting machines.
Connelly said he does not know if the party can contract with the State Election Commission to use its resources and oversight. The commission has asked new state Attorney General Alan Wilson, also a Republican, for an opinion about whether it can contract its services to the GOP, spokesman Chris Whitmire said. But that is not the only issue that must be resolved, Whitmire said.
The budget that legislators passed does not compel the agency to assist with the primary; it only says it can use money left over from recent elections to do so. The Election Commission might need to use part of that $680,000 for its own operations, Whitmire said.