Electronic mail messages provided to this news outlet in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request laid bare a plot by legislative leaders to oust the former director of the South Carolina Election Commission (SCVotes.gov).
A successful plot, incidentally …
The emails – which detailed the forced resignation of former SCVotes.gov director Marci Andino last year – were released just ten minutes after this news outlet published an exclusive report on a related lawsuit targeting the election commission.
That report referenced how Andino’s 2021 resignation “was not voluntary,” and how the lawsuit filed against the agency could, in the words of one source, uncover “a broader (legislative) plot to oust Andino from her role.”
The documents released by SCVotes.gov are damning – exposing the impotence of S.C. governor Henry McMaster in response to the legislative onslaught. The messages also exposed a rift between his chief of staff (the so-called “shadow governor”) and the chairman of the election commission, attorney John Wells.
In one email dated May 7, 2021, Wells wrote to Andino instructing her to attach a letter she was preparing “to a clean email” so that McMaster chief of staff Trey Walker would not be privy to their prior correspondence.
“I don’t want Trey Walker reading our email chain,” Wells wrote.
That was probably wise considering Walker – a hard-drinker (but not-so-hard worker) – is known to “hold a grudge like Khomeini,” for those of you familiar with the Seinfeld reference.
Anyway, in an email dated May 6, 2021 Walls wrote to Andino to inform her “pressure in the Senate is building” for Andino’s resignation and that the governor’s office wants “an announcement letter tomorrow to show the Senators to induce them to back off and stand down.”
In other words, McMaster caved to lawmakers – who threatened to oust his commissioners if they did not insist upon removing Andino from office.
“I hate all of this,” Wells added in his email, “but I am trying to play the hand we are dealt, not the cards we want.”
(Click to view)
Six days later, on May 12, 2021, Wells wrote to Andino (above) informing her “the House is caving in to the Senate.”
“Time is running out,” he added.
According to Wells’ emails, Andino fell on her sword in the hopes of giving the agency sufficient time to transition to a new director without the Senate stepping in and removing the governor’s appointees.
“All of my information on the seriousness of the Senate’s intent to tear down the agency and start over is coming true,” Wells wrote to Andino the morning after her resignation was announced. “We’ve done what was necessary to disincentivize the Senate from doing this, but whether it was enough or in time remains to be seen. The agency needs seven months for the transition, and you have done what you could to give it a chance. I hope it works.”
“If they break it, I’m not going to fix it,” Wells added in a separate email, referring to state lawmakers.
Andino ultimately stepped down from her post on October 1, 2021 to take a job with a private company. Her permanent replacement was announced late last month.
As previously noted, the executive director of this agency serves at the pleasure of five commissioners who are appointed by the governor.
Such an arrangement has always struck me as superfluous … seriously, why not make the chief election officer directly accountable to the governor? After all, who needs a bunch of taxpayer-funded middlemen?
This executive duplication is a moot point, though, as long as lawmakers are effectively usurping control from the governor and his appointees.
This news outlet has argued for years on behalf of comprehensive election reform. Fourteen years ago, I laid out a comprehensive reform agenda for the Palmetto State called the ‘95 Theses.’ That document included a recommendation (Thesis No. 6, for those of you keeping score at home) to place the office of secretary of state within the governor’s cabinet – and to task its holder with serving as the “chief election officer” for the state.
Whoever occupies that role, though, they must preside over a system which is capable of holding municipal and county-level election commissions accountable.
Because that is not happening.
And guess who appoints the vast majority of these local election commissioners? Yeah … state lawmakers (a.k.a. the same people appointing our judges).
Anyway, to read my latest post detailing the reforms lawmakers must pass if the Palmetto State is ever to restore public faith in the integrity of our ballot boxes, click here.
THE EMAILS …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that “Battleship Chains” Norfolk Tides’ lid pictured above).
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