It will be somewhat of an experimental presidential primary in 2012, as election officials and party leaders will be financing it in a way never before done in South Carolina.
For most of South Carolina’s history, the two political parties ran their respective primaries. In 2008, the state stepped in to run them for the first time. The State Election Commission will also run the 2012 primary, but most of the funding this time will come from Republicans.
The South Carolina Republican Party reports it now has more than $250,000 cash on hand that it can use towards next year’s primary. The Election Commission will help fund the primary with some of its budgeted carry-forward money, but it will not be nearly enough, meaning Republicans coffers will have to cover much of the tab.
Elections Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire says it’s an unusual situation, “The state will be conducting them, but only partially funding them. So it is a little different than it has been in the past.”
Matt Moore is the Executive Director of the South Carolina GOP. He said changes in federal law over the past decade make it necessary for the state to step in now.
He said one example is electronic voting machines, “It’s very difficult to acquire (them) if you’re a private entity. If the state’s not involved, it raises questions about impartiality and fairness of the vote.”
Election officials are meeting with the state Republican and Democratic parties to come up with a funding plan for 2012. While most of the attention will be focused on the GOP, South Carolina Democrats have to officially nominate President Obama through a primary, as well.
Moore said his party hopes to save some money by grouping voting precincts together, but without hurting the process, “We want people to… be able to go their usual precinct in their general area and vote. We want to avoid things like a ‘firehouse election’, where you might have to go 30 or 40 miles to vote.”
Whitmire said another possible scenario involves fewer staffers at heavily Democratic precincts, since those will likely have low turnout. While the number of poll workers is set by law for elections, party primaries are not covered by those rules.
The state Republican Party was able to raise $184,000 this past quarter. The bulk of the money– $160,000– came from candidate filing fees. Moore said he expected a few other candidates to officially file before too long.
Whitmire says there are a lot of unknowns right now, and it’s too early to know how much money is needed to operate the primary. A date has not even been set, although most predict it will be in late February.
Whitmire said he thinks an agreement will be reached between the political parties and the state by early October.