Several counties are rebelling against the South Carolina Elections Commission, saying they should not have to pay for the GOP presidential nomination. Spartanburg County joined the chorus Friday, as its county council voted against running the primary unless they receive full compensation from the state.
This is the first year of a new deal between the state Elections Commission and the South Carolina Republican Party, where the state will pay $680,000– roughly half of the tab for running the primary, while the GOP will cover the remainder. The parties paid for the primaries until 2008, when the state covered the costs. However, a lack of revenue this year meant the state did not set aside any new funds. The $680,000 is actually carry-forward funds from previous elections.
“If they think this is so important for South Carolina that we have it in February… then the parties themselves should cover it,” Spartanburg Councilman David Britt said.
The council said it would consider a lawsuit, if they think it’s necessary. Greenville County is looking to join Spartanburg on any potential legal actions. Last week, the Elections Commission refused to reconsider its decision after a request from Beaufort County.
Ironically, each of the three counties involved so far are all largely Republican. But local leaders say tax dollars should not go towards one party’s primary.
The money is supposed to go towards the counties to reimburse them for running the polls, but local officials say it does not cover all of their costs.
Meanwhile, the SCGOP and the Elections Commission are still negotiating what will be reimbursed and what will not be.
“The counties have not been privy to that,” Henry Laye, Director of Spartanburg’s Office of Elections, said, “We don’t have a seat at the table. We don’t know what they’re discussing. And, quite frankly, we’re not sure where the funds are going to come from to cover the full cost of the election.”
He estimated the primary could cost the county as much as $20,000. Beaufort County said it could cost them $50,000 to run the GOP primary alone. If President Obama were challenged in a Democratic primary, that would nearly double the county’s costs (the Democratic primary would likely be a different date). Most of those costs are for running and transporting electronic voting machines.
State Elections Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said the agency is only following the law— and it expects the counties to do the same.
The commission’s position is based on an Attorney General’s opinion earlier this year. That ruling was based on a 2007 proviso that gave the commission the power to fund the 2008 primaries. However, the counties argue the proviso only specifically mentioned the 2008 election year.
State Republican Party Executive Director Matt Moore says new federal laws make it too expensive and legally risky for the party to shoulder the cost of the entire primary. He said the new laws deal largely with electronic voting machines. “It’s very difficult to acquire (them) if you’re a private entity,” he told South Carolina Radio Network earlier this year, “If the state’s not involved, it raises questions about impartiality and fairness of the vote.”
The Elections Commission has also seen its funding cut drastically from 2008. The commission’s budget allocation was $2 million four years ago, but has dropped to $850,000.