SC House debates bill to change makeup of state elections board

Opponents fear the change would make the board more partisan.
When it comes to total voter turnout, South Carolina did not end up having a record-breaking...
When it comes to total voter turnout, South Carolina did not end up having a record-breaking year.(WIS)
Published: Mar. 9, 2021 at 11:07 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A bill that would expand the board of the South Carolina State Election Commission and require that all counties have uniform election laws is up for debate in the South Carolina House.

The bill, sponsored by Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, would raise the number of members on the SEC board from five to nine.

Under current law, the governor appoints the five members of the board, but one is a member of the majority party in the General Assembly, and another is a member of the minority party. In South Carolina right now, Democrats are the minority party and Republicans are in the majority, with significantly more members in the House and Senate.

However, if this bill were to be signed into law as written, five members of a nine-person board would be appointed by the governor. But only four of those five could be from the governor’s own party.

Because the bill expands the size of the board, the leaders of both chambers in the State House would also have a larger say in the makeup of the board.

The President of the South Carolina Senate would appoint two members, one selected with the recommendation from the majority party in the Senate and one from the largest minority party.

The Speaker of the House would have to do the same as the Senate President and chose one person appointed by the majority party and one from the minority.

In all, this would create a nine-person board with three people appointed by the minority party.

During a House Judiciary hearing on the bill, Democrats said this bill will make the board that governs election laws in the state more partisan.

“We all know the reality of this state is the Republican Party is going to make up two-thirds of the General Assembly,” said Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg. “How we can expect people in this state to look at the institution of government here as legitimate when the hand is being stacked against anybody who is different from the majority who is in control.”

Republicans say this gives the governor less say in the board’s composition because it would reduce the members he/she appoints from five to four.

When asked about that concern, Rep. Jay Jordan, R-Florence, said: “I would say ‘no’ because you are providing insight by way of adding additional insight…the President and the Speaker and so forth....that we don’t have now.”

In committee, Democrats signaled support for an earlier version of the bill that made the board an eight-person body and allowed the governor to appoint two people from their party to the board, rather than the three set out in the latest version.

“Why strike through what was originally filed by the speaker?” Rep. Seth Rose, D-Richland, asked in committee.

This bill would also give the State Election Commission power to “supervise and standardize” how county boards of elections operate, according to the text of the bill.

Jordan said this provision in the bill would require that “local officials have to be consistent with state laws.”

Monday, Gov. Henry McMaster sent a letter to the General Assembly urging lawmakers to support this bill and “protect the integrity of South Carolina’s elections.”

The governor’s office says the ability to add four members of the board and standardized election practices in all 46 South Carolina counties will improve the voting process in the state.

For example, in the letter, McMaster mentioned that a bill that passed out of the State House in 2020 requiring a witness signature on absentee ballots was not followed by all counties in the state.

“Some counties were employing a hodgepodge of different and inconsistent processes,” McMaster wrote.

The governor said this bill is necessary to protect election integrity and add oversight to the elections process, but noted that was not a reported issue in state elections last cycle.

“Millions of Americans hold legitimate concerns about the integrity of the 2020 election,” McMaster wrote. “Though there were no reported voting irregularities in South Carolina, voter fraud remains a persistent and pervasive threat to the strength of our democracy.”

The bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee and will now be debated on the House floor. If it passes the House, it will be sent to the Senate for further debate.

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