Voting Reform

South Carolina Progressive Network

VOTING REFORMS

The SC Progressive Network is working on a comprehensive package of legislative reforms to make it easier to register and to vote in South Carolina. Our coalition has made electoral reform a priority.

The Network is aware that simply making it easier to vote will not cure our ailing democracy. We have to reduce the influence of money in politics (see our Clean Elections Campaign), fight for competitive voting districts and support progressive candidates.

• The 2008 legislative elections again saw SC leading the nation for the fewest contested races. Only 34 percent of the 170 legislative seats were contested in the general election. The national average is 56 percent.

• Out of the 46 SC Senate seats, only 20 were contested. Nine were taken by new members (6 R, 3 D).

• Of 124 House seats, only 38 were contested. 20 new members (16 R, 4 D).

• That’s 83 percent of the 170 seats retained by incumbents.

The biggest impediment to having a choice in our general elections is the redistricting that was done following the 2000 Census. The Republicans and the Black Caucus worked out a plan that gave them “safe” districts, that mean the winner of the party primary is assured election.

RECOMMENDED LEGISLATIVE ACTION

Early Voting Centers (H-3608-Mack: S 369-Sen. Leventis)

This legislation would require counties to have at least one Early Voting Center open for voters to register and vote for 15 days before an election through the Saturday prior to the election. This would eliminate the need for a voter to have an excuse to vote early and allow new voters to register at the early voting centers. This bill is modeled after North Carolina’ early voting centers, which have been in place since 2006, with rave bipartisan support from voters and election workers.

High school poll workers (H-3607-Mack: S 370-Sen. Leventis)

To encourage young people to get involved in our democratic process, proposed legislation will allow more 16- and 17-year-olds to be poll workers, under the supervision of adult poll managers (the ratio is now one minor to three adults). Social studies students could get class credit for helping run a polling place. The Department of Education supports the bill. While there was a shortage of poll workers statewide, the average age of poll workers during the 2008 election was 72.

Provisional Ballots Count County wide (H-3606-Mack: S 368-Sen. Leventis)

Currently, if a voter’s name isn’t on the list of voters at the precinct, the voter can cast a provisional ballot that will only be counted if the voter is in the right precinct, even if they are registered. This legislation would allow a provisional ballot to count if the voter is in the right county. This would make votes count for all but the most local races, even if the voter is in the wrong precinct. (One of the most frequent calls to the Election Protection Hotline was from voters who were not on the precinct list.)

Elections Study Commission (H-3609-Mack: S 366-Sen. Leventis)

An Elections Study Commission will be established to “investigate barriers to registration and voting, error rates and voting machine reliability, review state expenditures and federal grants related to voting, and propose ways to make the electoral system more efficient, accurate, verifiable and accessible. The Commission shall make a report to the Governor and the General Assembly within 90 days of each general election containing recommendations to improve citizens informed participation in the electoral process.”

“The governor shall appoint a 13-member commission, two from each congressional district and one at-large, with consideration to race and gender diversity. The appointments shall be made from nominations submitted by nonpartisan voting rights organizations, as recognized by the Secretary of State. The commission shall chose its chair from among its members.” (This legislation is prompted by the fact that the oversight of our election process is provided by those paid to run the process. This bill had bipartisan support in the last session.)

SC Universal Registration Act (H-3604-Mack: S 367-Sen. Leventis)

“Whereas, voter registration laws in South Carolina have been historically used to disenfranchise citizens, it is the intent of the State of South Carolina that all citizens of voting age, not otherwise prohibited by law, be guaranteed the right to vote.”

The state Department of Education shall ensure that all 17-year-old high school students have the opportunity to register to vote. All students, through their social studies/civics classes, in a manner decided by the local school board, shall have the opportunity to discuss the importance of registering to vote and voting. The students will receive their voter registration cards  religious or philosophical reasons (Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, don’t believe in voting).

The State Election Commission, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Pardons, Probation and Parole shall insure that upon the completion of a prison sentence, citizens who are not otherwise ineligible to vote, receive a voter registration form with a letter explaining that their voting rights have been restored and that they are eligible to register and vote. The 2009 legislation allows citizens (and ex-offenders) to register without additional proof beyond swearing to the voter declaration on the registration form (6 counties currently do not require that the ex offender present proof of completion of sentence beyond signing the voters declaration on the registration form. )

Proportionally award electoral votes (H-3605-Mack: S 365-Sen. Leventis)

This legislation would award one electoral vote to the top presidential candidate in each of our state’s six congressional districts. The remaining two electoral votes would go to the overall vote winner. Many believe it is time to end the safe state/swing state dichotomy and make all votes equal, no matter the state residence of the voter. The President should be elected by direct, popular vote. Our state’s current winner-take-all method leaves the near majority of citizens unrepresented. Since a federal constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College may prove unfeasible, we should set our sights on amending state laws to proportionally award our electors.

No precincts in gated communities (H-3142-Rep. Whipper)

In 2006, a precinct in Beaufort county was moved to a gated community that wouldn’t allow anyone on the property not on the precinct list. This violates state and federal laws that allow a citizen to cast a provisional ballot if their name is not on the poll list.

Voter-Verifiable Paper Ballots. (legislation pending)

The Network has opposed electronic voting machines that do not produce a voter-verifiable paper record since before the state purchased them in 2002. Only three other states still use this type of voting machine. The Network supports going to a paper-based system that can be recounted. While the technology is evolving, we support a voting system that uses different devices to register and count the vote. The most reliable system currently available has one machine mark a paper ballot that the voter then inserts into a scanner to cast their vote. This system allows the voter to correct errors and will work without electricity. Since there is no money to buy new voting machines, we are stuck with them – until the federal government requires a paper based system, and provides funding – or we have a major malfunction that spoils an election.

Clean Elections (H-3520-Rep. J.H. Neal: S-438-Sen. Pinckney)

The Network has sponsored legislation since 2000 that would establish a voluntary system of qualifying for a grant to run for office. This “Clean Election” system has been in place in Arizona and Maine for four full election cycles. Over half the legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, in both states opted into the clean elections system, which relieved them of the constant need to raise funds. It also freed them from the pressures inherent in accepting donations from special interests.

We are all aware of the growing public cynicism about politics. Much of it stems from the reality that special interest money dominates campaign financing. Nearly 80 percent of SC campaign donations come from special interest groups, while less than one percent comes from individual donations of $200 or less. This legislation is an opportunity to restore our citizens’ confidence in the political process and in the government that is supposed to be working on their behalf.

A study done for the Network in 2001 by the University of South Carolina found that a majority of citizens, Republicans, Democrats and Independents, support clean elections. It concluded that: “More than 60 percent of those surveyed believe that the cost of elections keeps many qualified people from running for public office, a majority believes that the state should have a system of public financing, and almost 60 percent would support a system of public financing if it would cost the average citizen about $3.50 a year.

Our bill allows publicly financed candidates the money to run competitive campaigns. It provides candidates the average amount spent to win a House, Senate or Constitutional office — and tripling that amount if they are outspent by a privately financed candidate — would cost taxpayers less than a penny a day.

This legislation would reduce the impact of money on politics, allow for more diversity in public office, and help restore confidence in our elected officials.

Clean Elections are addressed in three bills. H-3520 is the enabling legislation that spells out exactly how the system would work. H-3518 and S-441 calls for a constitutional amendment that allows the citizens to vote for clean elections. H-3519 & S-440 establishes a Clean Elections Study Committee to come up with a pilot program.

For more information on the SC Progressive Network’s campaign for voter reform call 803-808-3384 or email network@scpronet.com.

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