It was a gay day in South Carolina!

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On Oct. 8, two Network groups and their allies from across South Carolina celebrated marriage equality at the SC State House after the historic court decisions paving the way for marriage equality in several states, including South Carolina. After a rally, LGBT activists and allies delivered a box of 5,000 petitions to SC Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office. Ignoring the writing on the legal wall, the governor and the AG vowed they will continue using taxpayer money to fight the issue.

Indeed, the next day the SC Supreme Court blocked the marriage license applications gay couples filed the day before in Charleston and Richland County court houses.

In spite of the stubborn response on the part of state leaders, marriage equality is inevitable, even in South Carolina. Congratulations to our member groups SC Equality and the Harriet Hancock Center for their dogged pursuit of fairness for all South Carolina’s citizens.

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More photos on Flickr.

Network Survey Shows County Voter Registration Offices Unclear About Law

Becci Robbins
SC Progressive Network Communications Director

If you are sent to prison in South Carolina, you lose the right to vote. By state law, that right is to be restored upon completion of your sentence. But a new survey of the state’s voter registration offices reveals that how the process for re-enfranchisement works — and doesn’t work — depends on where you live.

The SC Progressive Network has just completed a survey of the state’s 46 county voter registration offices, finding that 33 of them require people to provide documentation that they’ve completed their sentence in order to re-register.

“Talking with staff in each of the 46 offices, we found a selective application of the law that we believe violates the equal protection clause,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “People who have served their time are being made to jump through bureaucratic hoops to regain the full citizenship granted by law. It is unfair, further depresses the state’s dismal voter participation rate, and affects twice as many black citizens as whites.”

While 13 offices do not require documentation from ex-offenders, Susie Edwards, Director of the Dillon County voter registration office, said her staff will ask for proof if someone “is acting sketchy.”

Saluda County voter registration office Director Dana Burdern said, “A letter from Pardons and Parole is not required by law but it’s asked for.”

Deputy Director Patrick Lee of Charleston said, “We go on their word. We don’t require more than that.”

The word Lee is relying on is the “voter oath” a person signs when registering swearing that he or she is a US citizen, is 18 years or older, and a South Carolina resident. Registrants also swear that they haven’t been found “mentally incompetent,” are not serving time in jail, and have completed their sentence.

“The only part of the oath citizens are being asked to provide additional proof for is the completion of a prison sentence,” Bursey said. “No law requires the counties to ask for further proof, and there is no established system for proving someone has served their time.”

The survey also revealed that 20 counties wrongly claim differences in the waiting periods between felonies and misdemeanors for voter registration, with felonies requiring additional waiting time.

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SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey and volunteer Bishop Shirley Raiford work a voting registration table at the bus transfer station in downtown Columbia.

“South Carolina’s voting system is a vestige of the Jim Crow era,” Bursey said. “The Senate was able to retain white power in 1895 by granting control of the election process to the counties, whose boards Senate members appointed. To this day, legislators appoint the boards, and each county is in charge of its own elections. This is why we have 46 counties interpreting the laws differently.”

The Network has introduced legislation that would require the state to inform people exiting the prison system of their voting rights. The bill has not advanced, but will be introduced again next legislative session.

“We think it is an important part of the reintegration of people back into our communities to ensure they regain their voting rights,” said Network Co-chair Virginia Sanders. “The state removes you from the rolls if you are incarcerated, and it should make sure that you can be reinstated once you’ve served your time.”

Sanders, who has spent years doing registration drives through the Network’s Missing Voter Project, said a common misconception, especially in rural areas, is that when people are sent to prison they forever lose their right to vote. “It’s sad that so many people don’t understand the law, especially those who are charged with enforcing it.”

The Network will use the survey as evidence in a case that is being prepared for federal court. Ex-offenders with relevant testimony about difficulties registering to vote are asked to contact the Network at 803-808-3384 or by sending email to network@scpronet.com. For more about the Network or its Missing Voter Project, visit scpronet.com.

New group works to raise funds to fight for marriage equality in South Carolina

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A grass roots group called The Will of the People has recently formed with a singular focus on South Carolina’s marriage equality fight. The mission is simple: To raise funds for non-attorney costs to support both a pending lawsuit as well as future marriage equality litigation in our state. The catalyst for the organization’s creation is the pending lawsuit by two women against the State of South Carolina in Federal District Court. The suit seeks an order requiring the state to recognize their 2012 legal marriage in Washington, DC.

The Will of the People is a volunteer organization; therefore, nearly 100% of the money raised will be used for filing fees, legal brief writings and clerical costs in the ongoing fight for marriage equality in SC. An account has been set up in the name of The Will of the People Fund at Wells Fargo Bank in South Carolina. All contributions are tax deductible. Send checks payable to The Will of the People Fund to The Will of the People Fund, PO Box 5006, Columbia, SC 29250.

Learn more about The Will of the People Fund on Facebook and Twitter @RealWOTPF.

SC Progressive Network part of college forum on third parties in South Carolina

American voters often think in two flavors: Republican and Democrat. But about a fifth of the candidates running Nov. 4 in South Carolina for state or federal offices are third-party candidates.

Columbia College is offering a forum for third-party candidates on Monday, Sept. 29, in the Breed Leadership Center. Beginning at 7 p.m. in Breed 201-202, third-party candidates will speak, each for five minutes, on their and their parties’ platforms. A brief moderated panel will follow, during which representatives of the third parties will discuss the effect on elections with representatives of the SC Progressive Network.

Afterward, time will be provided to personally meet candidates. The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.

Those attending and the offices they are running for include:

  • For the Libertarians: Victor Kocher, Libertarian chairman and candidate for the U.S. Senate; Travis McCurry, S.C. House of Representatives, District 26; and Curtis McLaughlin, 4th Congressional District.
  • For the American Party of South Carolina: Jim Rex, American Party chairman and co-founder; Jill Bossie, U.S. Senate; Ed Murray, state superintendent of education; and Donna McGreevy, S.C. House of Representatives, District 74.
  • For the United Citizens Party: Morgan Bruce Reeves, governor.
  • To discuss the election effects: Brett Bursey, director, and Marjorie Hammock, co-chair, SC Progressive Network.

Why do some S.C. candidates and voters gravitate to third parties? The candidates themselves will answer the question on Sept. 29, as may voters attending.

Rex, of the American Party of South Carolina, says that his party’s appeal lies in the “emphasis on problem-solving and not on ideological absolutes or extremes,” as well as candidates’ vows to abide by “mandated term limits, transparency and unprecedented accountability.”

Kocher, a Libertarian, says, “Libertarian candidates trust people with the freedom to make the best choices for themselves while the Democratic and Republican parties trust the state with the power to make choices for the people.”

The event is sponsored by the Writing for Print and Digital Media program, a major that provides students academic and professional experience in digital and print journalism, public relations, social media and creative writing.

Breed Leadership Center is located at 1301 Columbia College Drive, which is between Colonial Drive and North Main Street. Parking is available in Lots A and B at the corner of Colonial and Columbia College drives. For a map of the campus, go here.

For more information on the event, contact Claudia Smith Brinson at Columbia College, csbrinson@columbiasc.edu or 803-786-3153.

Ethics reform: when a bad bill is worse than no bill

John Crangle
Director, Common Cause South Carolina

The State’s readers were treated recently to the musings of a pair of rookie legislators, Rep. Kirkman Finlay and Sen. Thomas McElveen, joined by JoAnne Day of the League of Women Voters, a newcomer to ethics reform, who praised House bill 3945 and ridiculed legislators who opposed the purported ethics-reform bill as “perfectionists,” “concerned” or “unwilling” ( “We must move forward on ethics,” Aug. 14).

It is not surprising, perhaps, that three people so recently acquainted with State House politics should fall for a fake reform bill like H.3945.

In particular, Rep. Finlay’s brief tenure in the House would not encourage much confidence in his actual interest in reform. He was one of the chief sponsors of two looney bills designed to rescue House Speaker Bobby Harrell from the criminal probe by the attorney general into his use of some $300,000 of campaign funds for pay for his personal airplane. Finlay joined with allies to fix a bill to remove Wilson as prosecutor in the Harrell case and empower Harrell himself and the president pro tempore of the Senate to appoint a special prosecutor to take Wilson’s place; they even proposed a constitutional amendment to strip Wilson of his prosecutorial authority.

Common Cause of South Carolina opposed H.3945 when it came to a vote in the Senate at the end of this past session; it was defeated by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and progressives.

No honest analysis of H.3945 could conclude that it was a serious reform proposal. It failed to address the most critical ethics problems that have plagued South Carolina in recent years. It failed to clean up the chronic problem of the misuse of campaign funds for non-campaign purpose. Just in the past few years, a number of officials have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar: Gov. Mark Sanford used campaign money to go on a hunting trip in Ireland; Lt. Gov. Ken Ard was thrown out of office after he bought clothes; Rep. Harold Mitchell was fined more than $20,000 for misuses; and Sen. Robert Ford was referred to the attorney general for buying sex novelties.

Not only did H.3945 not stop the misuse of campaign money for non-campaign purposes; it even proposed to allow candidates to use such funds to pay for family members to go on trips.

The bill did nothing to stop legislative ethics committees from pretending to police their own members. The failure of the House Ethics Committee to do anything about Bobby Harrell’s out-of-control spending of campaign money on his private airplane clearly shows how conflicted and frightened the panel was.

Of course, H.3945 had no whistle-blower measure to protect government employees who report embezzlement, bribery and corruption, even though South Carolina is plagued by such crimes. It had no public integrity unit of the sort proposed by the attorney general to attack public corruption.

As bad as 3945 was, there were many legislators who wanted it to pass so they could say for the next generation that they has passed a wonderful ethics reform bill while they continued to misbehave for the rest of their careers.

In the end, Gov. Nikki Haley declared H.3945 an income-disclosure bill that didn’t address ethics, and Sen. Vincent Sheheen walked away from it, as both candidates for governor clearly saw that the bill fell far below their minimum standards for ethics reform.

The next two years will be a better time for passing a real ethics reform bill, as the 2016 elections will have both the House and Senate facing the voters. By then, perhaps another scandal will further demonstrate the need for a real ethics-reform law.

John Crangle is executive director of Common Cause of South Carolina, a longtime member of the SC Progressive Network.

SC Pride movement celebrates 25 years

The SC Progressive Network has supported Pride since our founding, back when doing so meant we would likely lose foundation money and certain community allies in the process. We’ve always tried to stay on the side of right, even when it hurts.

We applaud the gay community in South Carolina for its successes over the years, in spite of tough odds. Here’s a look back at Pride over the years.

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More photos in our Flickr photo album.

 

Network takes healthcare message on the road

logo3The SC Progressive Network is in the process of training crews of volunteers to launch its latest project, the Healthy Democracy Road Show, designed to educate and mobilize voters on the state of democracy and healthcare in South Carolina. Road crews will do door-to-door canvassing in targeted neighborhoods, and a show is being developed to liven up events in selected towns across South Carolina.

We spent the last legislative session targeting lawmakers on Medicaid expansion. Now, over the summer and early fall, we will focus on targeted communities across the state, taking our message to the people most affected by state lawmakers’ refusal to accept federal funding — our own tax money.

In July and early August, trainings for organizers are being held. For information, or to schedule a training in your area, call 803-808-3384 or email network@scpronet.com. The next training is on July 21 at the ILA Hall in Charleston.

This clip is from a training in Columbia, presented by Network Director Brett Bursey.