The House has taken a new approach to passing a bill designed to prevent South Carolina’s elections from being thrown into chaos again. The proposal sent Friday to the Senate would both create a statewide model for county election boards, to hopefully remove the threat of chaos, and give the State Election Commission oversight over those 46 boards. That new authority could improve elections and ensure everyone’s vote is counted, state elections spokesman Chris Whitmire said Friday. Currently, if a county isn’t following the law or voluntarily complying with policy, the agency can only inform local officials and legislators of a potential problem. “They are their own entity. We can’t compel them to do anything,” Whitmire said. A panel of House and Senate members had been working on a compromise over different versions of a bill on the governance of county election boards. But that tentative compromise required a two-thirds vote in each chamber, a difficult proposition in the Senate. So the House instead attached the compromise to a separate election-related bill and, after a unanimous vote Thursday, returned that amended measure to the Senate. A simple majority approval in that chamber would send it to the governor’s desk.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin said he doesn’t care how the fix passes, as long as it does before the legislative session ends June 5. Voters go to the polls five days later.
Martin, R-Pickens, has repeatedly urged his colleagues to act quickly, noting a verdict on a lawsuit filed in March could jeopardize the primaries. The South Carolina Public Interest Foundation has asked a judge to throw out a 2008 state law that allows each county election office to organize differently.
The attorney general’s office believes that law violates the state constitution’s ban against single-county legislation. If a court affirms the top prosecutor’s opinion, there could be no one left locally to conduct elections, Martin has said. Lawmakers also fear a post-election verdict could overturn the results.
Legislators don’t want to take that chance two years after a lawsuit against a single candidate resulted in about 250 people being kicked off primary ballots statewide.