The recently-fired Richland County elections director told reporters Tuesday that he will meet with state police from the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) over what he says were election law violations that occurred on his watch.
Howard Jackson was hired in June — seven months after the disastrous 2012 election. That year, a county investigation found not enough machines had been distributed to certain precincts, which resulted in some people waiting nearly seven hours to vote. The county’s elections director Lillian McBride was demoted elsewhere in the department after a large public outcry among Columbia-area voters.
Jackson on Tuesday lashed out against those who fired him, saying the Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration terminated him Monday for resisting their efforts to influence the hiring and firing of his deputy directors. Specifically, Jackson said he was told to back down on two separate occasions when he tried to fire a deputy director whose brother-in-law is a state senator.
“The deputy director did not know the job. It was clear,” Jackson said. “It was admitted to that the person did not know the job. I signed paperwork to that fact, presented the information to the board. I was told to stand down.”
“But because of this deputy director’s political affiliation with a certain state senator, I was told that would be a bad political move to make,” he continued.
Jackson identified the former official as Deputy Director of Elections Garry Baum, the brother-in-law to State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland. Lourie on Tuesday strongly denied ever contacting the board or Jackson on Baum’s behalf. The senator told WLTX-TV in Columbia that any suggestion he was inappropriately involved in election decisions is “false and completely inaccurate.”
Jackson said he finally fired Baum in November 2013 after learning the deputy director had not properly charged voting machines, putting them at a higher risk of running out of power on Election Day. He said the Board of Elections tried to block his new choice for the job even though the law gives him discretion in hiring and firing.
“The very first question that I got (from the elections board) when I mentioned my selection… was, ‘what color is he?'” Jackson told reporters. “Not ‘Is he qualified?’ Not ‘Where does he come from?'” The African-American candidate was rejected, he said. Instead, Lillian McBride was given the position of deputy director.
Jackson said he will meet with SLED on Wednesday and offer them several documents and his deposition that outline his concerns of potential wrongdoing during the November 2012 and 2013 elections. He would not elaborate on the allegations Tuesday.
The board plans to meet again on Wednesday to discuss a possible replacement for Jackson.