The South Carolina Supreme Court says it will hear a case that threatens to mess up South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary.
In a lawsuit filed late Monday, four counties claimed the state does not have the power to run a party’s primary. At issue is a new agreement this year where the state will pay $680,000 (about half of the primary’s costs), and the GOP will pick up the rest of the tab for “legitimate” expenses. However, the state Elections Commission has not yet determined what a “legitimate expense” is.
Beaufort, Chester, Greenville, and Spartanburg county officials are afraid they will not get fully reimbursed for the costs of running the election. “We have questions on what are legitimate expenses and who makes that determination,” Greenville County Elections Commission director Conway Belangia said, “We don’t have anybody involved in those discussions. The counties have been excluded from that.”
All four counties are named in the lawsuit, which claims local governments should not be forced to run a private political party event. The suit also claims the South Carolina Elections Commission cannot run the primary without an explicit state law. The state GOP and Democratic parties are also named in the suit.
However, the Commission and South Carolina Republican Party say the agency does have authority under two budget provisos passed by the General Assembly earlier this year that give the Commission permission to use certain funds specifically for the presidential primary. Legislators overrode a veto by Governor Nikki Haley to keep that language in the budget.
Attorney General Alan Wilson backed up the agency earlier this year in a brief, saying a law passed to fund the 2008 primary could also apply in 2012.
County officials are worried some expenses, such as voting machines and overtime pay for poll workers, might not be covered by the agreement. The suit estimates all 46 counties paid $966,000 in 2008 that was not reimbursed.
SCGOP Executive Director Matt Moore said the party is willing to help out, but will not write blank checks. “We’re not going to pay for new computers, new roofs for buildings, and those kinds of things,” he said.
Moore said the state funded both the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries for the first time in 2008 because new federal election laws made it too expensive and legally risky for the parties to do it.
The Supreme Court did not schedule a hearing on the case, but said any documents are due next week.
Moore said, if South Carolina loses the lawsuit, legislators have promised party officials they would change state law when they return to session next January.