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South Carolina Election Reform Is Dead

State lawmakers pointing fingers over the failure of their latest half-measure …

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A bill to reform the way South Carolina conducts elections appears to be dead for the year after leaders in the S.C. House of Representatives referred it to a legislative committee which has barely met this year.

As I previously reported, the S.C. House judiciary committee has been in limbo for months owing to the poor health of its chairman, state representative Chris Murphy of North Charleston, S.C.

In other words, anything assigned to this committee isn’t going anywhere … especially not with lawmakers less than a month away from concluding their “work” this year.

I wrote on this bill, H. 4919, back in February – noting it would “provide modest new voter security measures” which included a ban on notoriously insecure ballot drop boxes. Beyond that, though, the bill failed to take the necessary steps to secure South Carolina’s ballot – meaning it failed to enact long-overdue structural reform or implement more stringent voter identification requirements.

Is this why House leaders killed the bill? Because it failed to provide comprehensive reform?

Of course not … they killed it for purely political reasons.

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House leaders killed this bill because they objected to a provision inserted by the State Senate which would have made appointees to the S.C. Election Commission (SCVotes.gov) subject to the advice and consent of state senators. Currently, members of this commission are appointed directly by the governor.

Another controversial provision inserted into the bill would have made the appointment of the executive director of this commission subject to Senate confirmation. Currently, the executive director is appointed by the commission (well, ostensibly).

House leaders refused to accept these provisions because they would have effectively placed the Senate in control of this ostensibly independent agency – allowing the “upper” chamber to determine the outcome of electoral challenges involving members of the lower chamber.

As well as its own electoral challenges …

“Election commission hears protests of the House and Senate,” a source tracking the debate told me this week. “The Senate would be picking their own electoral arbiters.”

“House leaders were never going to let that happen,” the source added.


Supporters of the new provisions – inserted by Senate majority leader Shane Massey – insist they were intended to enhance accountability. Opponents argued they would have unnecessarily injected politics into what ought to be an apolitical, independent function of government.

I reached out to Massey directly to get his thoughts on the situation.

“The bill’s not dead,” Massey told me. “There’s no reason for it to be dead.  There’s plenty of time to pass a strong bill if people will work in good faith.”

As for the criticism of his provisions as “poison pills,” Massey said the GOP objections took him by surprise.

“I’m really baffled Republicans have taken a position that advice and consent is a poison pill,” he said.  “The state election commission has repeatedly disregarded state law, pushed to weaken important security measures, and failed to defend our state’s election laws.  In 2020, the state election commission was indisputably the biggest single threat to our elections and, if left alone, would have put us on par with Georgia.  We can’t let that happen again. Without advice and consent, we leave South Carolina vulnerable to the election commission not enforcing election laws with which it disagrees.  For all the strong and necessary reforms included in the bill, none of those reforms will matter if the election commission does not enforce the law.  Advice and consent is essential.”

Nonetheless, several of Massey’s GOP colleagues in the Senate were reportedly trying to convince him to remove the language from the legislation.

Also, the S.C. Republican Party (SCGOP) sent out an email accusing the Senate of “poisoning our opportunity to pass a real election integrity bill.”

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The SCGOP email – signed by chairman Drew McKissick – declined to call Massey out by name, but it did chide “Senate leadership” for inserting the controversial advice and consent provisions.

“As a result, the rest of the entire bill – that has virtual unanimous support – is dead in the water,” McKissick wrote, urging senators to “go back and lick their candy over again.”

Huh?

Homespun lollipop expressions notwithstanding, this bill is a half-measure … more “reform in name only” (and more legislative self-policing).

My news outlet has been championing real election reform for nearly a decade-and-a-half – including changing the structure of South Carolina’s current system to promote direct accountability and safeguarding the integrity of the ballot.

In April 2008 – as part of my ‘95 Theses’ for state government – I proposed placing the office of secretary of state within the governor’s cabinet and tasking its holder with serving as the “chief election officer” for the state.

Beyond creating a direct line of accountability to the voters, though, the real structural question is how to create a system capable of holding municipal and county-level election commissions accountable.

Because that is not happening at the moment – and the local level is where all of problems are happening.


Also, it will surprise precisely none of our readers to discover that corrupt (or incompetent) local election officials are being appointed by the same people appointing our judges.

Which is another reason we shouldn’t be shocked to see a lack of motion on this critical front …

As I noted back in February, before addressing rules of voter eligibility or specific safeguards which ought to be in place regarding ballots, South Carolina must 1) establish an election officer who reports directly to the governor, and 2) make all local election commissions political subdivisions of the state.

Otherwise, we will continue to see scandals like this …

Once the proper structure is in place, the question becomes how do we protect the ballot from fraud and abuse (especially in the era of “early voting”)?

In May of 2020 – seven months before the contested fall election – I addressed the issue of mail-in voting extensively, arguing that if properly implemented it could actually be more secure than in-person voting (especially if it created a more definitive “paper trail” of ballots).

Unfortunately, South Carolina lawmakers have failed to put forward the requisite security measures – including the submission of a valid photo identification as part of the application process.

“No valid ID, no ballot. Period,” I wrote back in February.

FITSNews readers appear to be in agreement. In February, 75 percent said they backed “tougher voter identification laws” as part of a comprehensive election reform package. Only 23 percent opposed such laws.

Stay tuned … my news outlet will continue to track the status of this legislation at the State House. More importantly, I will continue challenging lawmakers to enact comprehensive election reform that fixes South Carolina’s broken structure and safeguards its exposed ballot.

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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 and before that he was a bass player and a dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (but he gave them up for Lent this year).

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