Network and SC Equality to show film Aug. 27 about unsung hero of 1963 March on Washington

Public invited to Aug. 27 screening of film about Bayard Rustin, the gay organizer and unsung hero of the 1963 March on Washington

Find out how SC Sen. Strom Thurmond played an unwitting role

The public is invited to learn a bit of history they likely know little about at a screening of the documentary Brother Outsider Aug. 27 at Conundrum Music Hall in West Columbia.

The film documents the life of Bayard Rustin, who had been in the trenches of the civil rights struggle for decades when he was called on to organize the historic August 19 63 March for Jobs and Freedom. Not only has the demand for economic equality and jobs been lost from stories of the march, but Rustin himself has been overlooked by history.

Rustin was considered a master organizer, a political intellectual and a pacifist. He organized protests against WWII and served time in prison for refusing to register for the draft. He created the first Freedom Rides, and was a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. For 60 years, Rustin fought for peace and equal rights — demonstrating, organizing and protesting here and abroad.

Rustin has been called “the unknown hero” of the civil rights movement. He dared to live as an openly gay man during the fiercely homophobic 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

In 1953, Rustin’s homosexuality became a public problem after he was found having sex in a parked car with two men. He was arrested on a morals charge. Later, when he was chosen to organize the 1963 march, some civil rights activists objected. In an effort to discredit the march, segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond took to the Senate floor, where he derided Rustin for being a communist, a draft dodger and a homosexual. Ironically, D’Emilo says, it became a rallying point for the civil rights leaders.

“Because no one could appear to be on the side of Strom Thurmond, he created, unwittingly, an opportunity for Rustin’s sexuality to stop being an issue,” he says.

The trailblazing strategist will this year be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Brother Outsider,” an 84-min. award-winning film about Rustin, will be shown Aug. 27 at 6pm at Conundrum Music Hall, 626 Meeting St. in West Columbia. The screening is sponsored by the SC Progressive Network and SC Equality. The film is free and open to the public. Snacks and beverages available for purchase. There will be a discussion after the screening.

For more information, call the SC Progressive Network at 803-808-3384.

Federal court judge throws out Republican lawsuit to close South Carolina primaries


Federal Judge Mary Lewis dismissed the Greenville County Republican Party lawsuit against the State Election Commission Wednesday, ruling that the party did not have standing to bring the case to court. The state and Greenville County Republican parties filed the complaint in 2010, seeking to require primary voters to register as Republicans to cast a vote in that party’s primary.

The state party withdrew from the suit before the case was heard, contributing to the judge’s determination that the Greenville County party did not have standing to change statewide election laws. Voters in South Carolina do not have to register by party.

The SC Progressive Network  – along with 13 members of the SC Black Legislative Caucus, the SC Independence Party, the Constitution Party and the Columbia Tea Party – were defendant/intervenors in the case.

“For years now, we have successfully fought Republican-sponsored legislation to close the primaries,” said Network Director Brett Bursey. “They sued the Election Commission to get the courts to do what they couldn’t accomplish in the legislature their own party controls. The state party pulled out of this suit because it didn’t want to argue the merits of a rigged election system.”

Bursey argued against such legislation before the House Judiciary Committee in March 2012. “We presented the committee a list showing that 20 of its 25 members won their elections in the primary, didn’t have general election opposition, and won with around 99 percent of the vote. I think they tabled the bill because they couldn’t defend the current system, much less one that restricted participation in the primaries.”

South Carolina has the least-competitive legislative elections in the nation, with nearly 80 percent of 2012 elections for the State House having only one major party candidate. “This is not what democracy should look like,” said Network Chair Emeritus Joe Neal, an intervenor in the suit. “Today the South Carolina federal court has upheld the rights of voters in South Carolina, especially the minority community, to free and unfettered access to the polls.”

“What passes for representative democracy in South Carolina is a farce,” Bursey said. “It will take at least a decade to fix the mess created by our legislature, which has spent 20 years making ‘safe’ districts that discourage competition.”

The Network is doing its best to educate the public about the serious need to create competitive political districts that encourage politicians to represent everyone in their district, not just the partisan 10 percent that turn out in the primaries. We are working to broaden electoral participation, not narrow it.

Vote suppression is the real voting fraud

By Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network

When I saw Rep. Alan Clemmons’ guest column in The State, “Voting problems continue to haunt us” (July 21), I was hoping he’d explain his part in peddling the myth of dead people voting in South Carolina, and apologize to the people he misled. He did neither.

Instead, he again claimed an “undeniable presence of election fraud in South Carolina,” and took a cheap shot at the S.C. Progressive Network to make his point. He referenced an instance years ago when bogus forms were turned in by someone the network hired to do voter registration in Florence County. I caught the fraud myself and called SLED and the County Election Board the day the forms were submitted.

No fraudulent votes were cast. I testified against the perpetrator, and he went to jail. The system worked.

Clemmons’ column goes on to call the photo ID law he championed “a good first step” and said, “Now, to cast a ballot, you are required to prove who your are and that you are eligible to vote in that election.”

The truth is that Clemmons’ bill was interpreted — essentially rewritten — by the federal appeals court, which ruled that “South Carolina’s new law … does not require a photo ID to vote.” The state spent $3.5 million on private attorneys to defend a law against a problem that doesn’t exist — and lost.

While unable to cite a single case of in-person voter impersonation, Clemmons told the U.S. Department of Justice that “voter fraud in South Carolina is an unspoken truth.” Still today, he conflates absentee ballot and voter registration fraud, neither of which requires a photo ID, with in-person fraud at the polls, of which there is no evidence.

In the nine years Clemmons has chaired the House’s Election Laws Subcommittee, he has killed every bill the network’s legislative members have sponsored to broaden voter participation. He nixed our proposals to establish early voting centers and high school voter registration programs, to reduce the influence of money in elections, to re-enfranchise felons and to adopt voter-verified paper ballots.

Rather than working to make voting more accessible and inclusive, Clemmons has said voting should not be easy.

We do agree on one thing: South Carolina’s election system is dysfunctional. It was established by the 1895 state constitution, which reversed the democratic aspects of the 1868 constitution that empowered black citizens. It delegated authority to 46 county election boards, appointed by local legislators, with no centralized control.

County election boards interpret and enforce election laws differently, and are not accountable to the State Election Commission.

Clemmons proposes to fix the problem by putting the State Election Commission under the partisan office of secretary of state. But in Florida and Ohio, where they run elections, secretaries of state have been accused of disenfranchising thousands of voters.

More partisan control in a state already crippled by it would be a mistake. A better answer would be to empower our independent, nonpartisan State Election Commission to run elections.

The truth is, our democracy is not threatened by voter fraud but by legislators who have rigged the system. Around 10 percent of eligible voters are choosing our Legislature.

If Clemmons was truly concerned about the “sanctity” of our electoral system, he would address the fact that the S.C. Legislature has the least-competitive elections in the nation, with 80 percent of lawmakers elected with no general-election opposition.

Clemmons, for example, got 99.12 percent of the vote in 2012, when he was the only candidate on the ballot. He was swept into office by 6.1 percent of voters in his district.

The Network believes we can do better. We will continue to fight to make our democracy more representative, and invite anyone who shares our goal to join us. Call us at 803-808-3384, email us at, or find us Facebook or Twitter.

Network Co-chair Harold Mitchell recognized for saving his community

In a July 15 article in Triple Pundit, a publication promoting ethical, sustainable development as a profitable business model, SC Progressive Network Co-chair Harold Mitchell was recognized as the founder of ReGenesis.

ReGenesis is a 15-year-old community development project in Mitchell’s Spartanburg neighborhood that has gained national attention for it holistic approach to saving a poor and polluted neighborhood. “The most striking example (of community redevelopment).” the article noted, “is an effort led by ReGenesis, a community-based environmental justice organization.”

“Harold is an authentic hero in his community,” said Network Director Brett Bursey, who first met Mitchell in 1995 when he was investigating the health problems in minority communities cause by toxic waste sites. “Harold’s family home was across the street from a toxic waste site, and he started connecting the early deaths and illnesses in his family to pollution from the site.”

Mitchell received the 2009 Environmental Achievement Award from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for his work with the ReGenesis Economic Development project. Charles Lee, director of the EPA Office of Environmental Justice, called ReGenesis “a powerful testament to the vision of environmental justice and healthy, sustainable communities.”

“We owe a debt of gratitude to [Mitchell,]” Lee said. “His vision and passion galvanized the formation of the ReGenesis partnership that has led us on this remarkable journey. Your work is incredible, and you are truly an inspiration to the nation.”

Lee said ReGenesis began with a $20,000 EPA grant in 1998, and since then more than $250 million has been leveraged in public and private funding through partnerships with more than 120 organizations.

Mitchell went from being a college student wondering why he and his family were sick to an activist who identified the problem and posed solutions, to a state legislator representing his community. Mitchell is currently the Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus with 39 members representing a million South Carolinians.

The best government money can buy


The 1% of the 1% (the .1% identified by Sunlight Foundation as about 31,000 ultra-rich) gave 28% of all federal campaign donations in 2012, $1.3 billion.

Every single member of the House or Senate who won an election in 2012 received money from the 1 percent of the 1 percent.

• For the 2012 elections, winning House members raised on average $1.64 million, or about $2,250 per day, during the two-year cycle. The average winning senator raised even more: $10.3 million, or $14,125 per day.

• Of the 435 House members elected last year, 372 — more than 85 percent — received more from the 1 percent of the 1 percent than they did from every single small donor combined.

Former SC state Sen. John Hawkins has change of heart on gay marriage

By Charlie Smith
Charleston, SC

A few weeks ago while helping to organize a summit on affordable housing in the Lowcountry, I was catching up with a good friend who was to be a presenter at the event. I had noticed that since we had seen each other last she had begun using a hyphenated last name. During the conversation she told me that she had recently gotten married; but when I asked her about her husband, there was a bit of a pause.

Then she mentioned that her husband had once been involved in South Carolina politics. As soon as she said those words and I connected them with her new last name, I’m sure that my jaw bounced off the floor. My friend’s comment and hesitancy in her voice could only have meant one thing. My wonderfully gay-supportive and embracing friend had married the man who had led the charge to exclude the right of gay people to marry in South Carolina. Her new husband was John Hawkins, the man who had been the sworn enemy of South Carolina’s LGBT community in 2006.

In the fight which led to the passage of the anti-gay constitutional amendment, Sen. Hawkins had even done his best to prevent opponents of the legislation from being able to have so much as a hearing while the legislation was in committee. Even President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Glenn McConnell, saw this as unconstitutional. Others like Sen. Luke Rankin (R-Horry) had comments like this to say about their colleague’s efforts to hijack the hearing process and deny opponents of the anti-gay marriage amendment the chance to speak “Give them a fair hearing and then hang them.”


That’s why it is so amazing today to see these comments from former Sen. Hawkins (R-Spartanburg) in response to yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings regarding marriage equality. He led the charge in the South Carolina Senate to deny marriage to LGBT South Carolinians in 2006; but yesterday he renounced those actions, stepped up to the plate and had this to say about marriage equality:

“I just finished reading Passage of Power by Robert Caro. In the book, he details the efforts of JFK and in particular LBJ in the passage of the Civil Rights Act. At the time of this bill, in the 60s and before, the South went to great lengths to shamefully discriminate against blacks. Southern police turned water hoses on children, black women couldn’t find a bathroom traveling through southern states because of segregation. Blacks’ voting rights were curtailed (they still are in some cases today, regrettably.) I could go on and on. And most of us now regard that discrimination as an odious stain on the history of freedom in America.

In my past days as a state Senator, I was active in working for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. With time and much consideration, not to mention a dose of enlightenment and empathy, I realize my past positions in this regard were wrong, and I honestly wish I hadn’t been so strident against gay marriage. I have come to see discrimination against gay people as a great wrong, akin to discrimination against blacks, women and other minorities. I believe that if a gay couple desires to get married, they should have the same rights as me. One cannot undo the past, but there is time left in life to change one’s mind and reject discrimination of any kind, in any form, and against anyone.”

The most important words in his statement are these: consideration, enlightenment and empathy. They are the keys to moving the “movable middle” toward marriage equality in South Carolina. I would never in a million years have EVER considered former State Senator John Hawkins to be anywhere near the “movable middle”on the issue of marriage equality…and that is precisely my point…we NEVER know who is part of the “movable middle.” That’s why as LGBT South Carolinians we must come out, lead by example and always be willing to educate rather than alienate. These are the most effective actions we can take to allow the healing elements of consideration, enlightenment and empathy to work their magic on stubborn prejudices as they obviously have on former Sen. Hawkins. That’s what we should always be about. You never know what it is that gets through to people…even when they tell you to your face that they don’t want to hear what you have to say.

If John Hawkins can come around, anybody can!

Work cheap, work sick, South Carolina

By Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network

Just when you thought South Carolina couldn’t be more business friendly, the House has unanimously passed a bill, with no public debate, to ensure that we not only work cheap but work sick.

The bill, introduced by House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee Chairman Bill Sandifer, prohibits local governments from requiring businesses to provide any employee benefits, such as sick leave. If it becomes law, the “work-sick” requirement will be tacked onto a “work-cheap” law Sandifer sponsored in 2002 that prohibits local governments from setting a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum. (South Carolina is one of five states with no minimum wage.)

Both laws have ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate-funded bill mill where conservative legislators and corporate members collaborate on “model state legislation” that benefits the corporate bottom line.

Sandifer, an ALEC task force chair, introduced the work-sick bill April 11, a month after Portland, Ore., passed an ordinance requiring business in that city to provide employees at least three days of paid sick leave. Sandifer’s LCI Committee approved his bill on April 24, without debate or a public hearing.

The bill passed both second and final reading on April 30, and was introduced in the Senate on May 1, the last day for bills to cross over between bodies. It’s now in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The ALEC task force that promoted the language in Sandifer’s bill is co-chaired by YUM! Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Fast food and lodging companies are leading the fight against sick leave.

A Food Chain Workers Alliance study, “The Hands that Feed Us,” found that 79 percent of food-industry workers do not get paid sick leave. A Centers for Disease Control study found that more than half of all outbreaks of the stomach flu can be linked to sick food-service workers.

Numerous studies show that paid sick leave benefits employers who want to retain a skilled and productive workforce, saves more than it costs in medical expenses and reduces the impact of communicable diseases.

The McGill University’s “Work, Family, and Equity Index” reports that at least 145 countries provide paid sick days. Of the 173 countries studied, the United States, Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland were the only ones with no paid leave for childbirth. The United States provides only unpaid leave for serious illnesses through the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which does not cover all workers.

Congressional efforts to require paid sick leave have been beaten back by the same corporate interests that are backing the state laws to stop cities from requiring sick leave.

Sandifer’s campaign-finance filings show contributions from WalMart, which has a sick-leave policy that can lead to termination. Grand Strand hotels, which rely on low-wage service workers, have contributed $4,200 in the past two years, and ALEC reimbursed Sandifer $1,500 for attending its 2010 conference.

ALEC members have sponsored similar anti-benefit bills that have become law in six states. They target cities in Republican-controlled states that might consider sick-leave ordinances. Ironically, this bill is an example of the very “big government” that these same Republicans rail against.

Imagine that Hilton Head Town Council decides that its well-heeled visitors deserve some assurance that they are not being taken care of by disease-ridden peasants and puts the question to a referendum. This bill would prevent Hilton Head voters from passing an ordinance requiring plantations not to fire the service staff if they are out sick for five days a year.

Under current laws, hundreds of thousands in South Carolina must choose between working sick or getting paid, between staying home with a sick child or getting paid. To many, the right choice means getting fired. This bill will make sure that nothing changes.

The folks from ALEC brought us the photo ID law to restrict who gets to vote. They are now pushing legislation to restrict what we get to vote on.

Sisters on bus tour push immigration reform

June 1, 7pm: NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus is coming to Charleston to support common sense immigration reform, Circular Congregational Church, 150 Meeting St.

The presentation will be followed by a short walk to the entrance of the Old Slave Mart Museum.

These inspiring women were welcomed last year by thousands of well-wishers as they traveled from state to state in support of federal budget priorities that address the needs of struggling families. This year, they are traveling across the United States – 6,500 miles over 15 states – 53 events in 40 cities – standing with immigrants, faith-filled activists, and Catholic Sisters who serve immigrant communities.

Their message is clear: We need commonsense immigration policies that reflect our values, not our fears. Congress must act now!

NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus is a campaign of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby which was founded by 47 Catholic Sisters more than 40 years ago.


Network’s film series presents new documentary “The Dream is Now”

The SC Progressive Network invites the public to a FREE screening of

The Dream is Now

May 28 6-8pm

(doors open at 5:30pm) Conundrum Music Hall, 626 Meeting St., West Columbia

The Dream Is Now is a 30-minute documentary by Academy Award-winning Director Davis Guggenheim. The film highlights the stories of undocumented youth and their families who are yearning to earn a pathway to citizenship in the country they call home. Brief discussion to follow the film.

See a trailer of the film at The film includes subtitles in Spanish.

Spanish-language flyer available for download here.

RSVP/Share on Facebook.

This FREE screening is part of the Network’s monthly film series, held at Conundrum every 4th Tuesday at 6pm. Free popcorn. Snacks and beverages available for purchase.

South Carolina funds healthcare for inmates but not its law-abiding citizens

By David F. Keely
President of Health Care for All – South Carolina

In March, the SC House of Representatives turned down the opportunity to fund a common sense expansion of our SC Medicaid insurance safety net program when it proposed its version of the state budget. So the 80% of South Carolinians who live in urban areas will not be helped in accessing quality, affordable healthcare under the SC House’s alternate plan (endorsed by Governor Haley) which is to be funded with $80 million in the House’s proposed FY 2013-2014 state budget.

Here it is May, and the SC Senate appears unlikely to incorporate SC Medicaid expansion into its version of the FY 2013-2014 state budget.

Yes, the “new” Medicaid expansion (as provided by the federal Affordable Care Act) would deliver a well-constructed package of essential health benefits to struggling, working South Carolinians who need it most to stay productive in their jobs and/or in their continuing education endeavors. And, where there are healthy adults in a household, there also does one find healthier dependent children.

So, take note:

While our state government sees fit to provide full-service healthcare to almost 28,000 convicted lawbreakers housed in state prison facilities, at a state cost of over $2,000 per person, our government, by its actions, is saying that we, as a state, cannot afford to provide essential benefits healthcare to about 200,000 working, law-abiding South Carolina citizens.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, the cost for expanding SC Medicaid comes to only 92-cents per person! Even using very conservative estimates, by state fiscal year 2019-2020, state government cost for maintaining the SC Medicaid expansion is, at most, $670 per person (that’s assuming no new jobs and no positive economic ripple effect at all.

Now, where is the justice in that comparison?

What are our state leaders thinking? Would you believe that the average number of fully-paid medical treatments per year by the SC Department of Corrections for its prison facility inmates is 32 per year?

It’s way past overdue for SC voters to hear these facts and be asking our state leaders why this glaring healthcare disparity is being ignored in our state.

Contact your neighbors and make these facts known. Be a voice for healthcare jutice in South Carolina now (and over the next year). Thank you!

David F. Keely is a Rock Hill physician.

Medicaid expansion (and rational thought) dead this year

The SC House Republican majority has passed a budget that does not include Medicaid expansion but provides $80 million for expanding health care services. It appears that the Senate will not include Medicaid expansion in its version of the budget. Senate Democrats have adopted a “maybe next year” position; rational Republicans say they will “wait and see” what their options are.

We thought that Republicans couldn’t turn down the 44,000 jobs and the $1.4 billion a year that the expansion would bring in the next seven years. We were wrong. While opponents of the expansion claim that the state can’t afford to provide health coverage to 350,000 low-income citizens, the legislature just gave Boeing another $120 million for promising another 2,000 jobs. That brings the Boeing subsidies close to $1 billion.

In comparison, expanding Medicaid would bring in an aggregate of around $1.8 billion a year for a cost of around $80 million a year, and would create 6,300 new jobs a year.

Dr. John Ruoff has crunched the numbers the governor is using and came up with a 2014 through 2020 cost to South Carolina of $570 million for accepting nearly $13 billion that the expansion would generate. That’s a cost of about $80 million a year to reap the benefits of expansion. Ruoff points out that other, more reliable studies show a net gain through the many benefits of a healthier population.

One of the “wait and see” elements is the push by Republican governors to get the Medicaid money put into block grants to the states, where it would be used to buy private insurance. This free-market scheme will benefit the insurance industry and greatly reduce actual health care benefits.

The Progressive Network is weighing options for direct action early in the 2014 legislative session. Please let us know your thoughts by sending email to or calling 803-808-3384.

What’s in a name?

By Hoyt Wheeler

Medicaid Expansion.

Imagine that Gov. Haley came up with a program called “Nikkicare” that would create 44,000 new jobs, provide health insurance for 250,000 of the poorest South Carolinians, cut health insurance premiums for citizens who have insurance, make up for the $2.6 billion in cuts in funding that are coming to SC hospitals, and keep small employers from facing fines for failing to provide health insurance for their employees? Doesn’t that sound great?

But there must be a catch, right?  This is bound to be costly to SC taxpayers, isn’t it?  Guess again.  This program would cost us nothing for the first three years and gradually go to 10% being paid for by us after that.  In addition, the economic impact of this flood of Federal dollars would pretty well cover all the costs in the future.

Does anyone think that the SC Legislature would pass up the chance to have such a program?

But it may.  Not because it’s not a great program, but because it has a different label, “Medicaid Expansion” under “Obamacare.”  Our only hope is that the Republicans who control the Legislature will do the right thing in spite of labels and ideology.

Community “dines in” to support Spartanburg restaurant’s workers


On April 1, more than 50 community members from Boiling Springs and Spartanburg took part in a “dine-in” at Copper River Grill to support the servers, bartenders, hostess, and other workers as they fight for a voice on the job and the right of self representation at work. Community members wore stickers that read “I SUPPORT THE WORKERS OF COPPER RIVER GRILL.”

The action coincides with the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s march with sanitation workers demanding union recognition in Memphis, where he delivered his famous last “Promised Land Speech” before being assassinated on April 4, 1968.

When SC AFL-CIO President Ken Riley met with workers this weekend, he said, “We are with these workers because what Copper River is doing is undermining the fundamental pillars of the work force in America. They are taking us back to the 1920s.”

“I serve food to people all day, but I make barely enough to get by,” said Victoria Ballard, who has been at Copper River for three years. “I am a single mother, and I have to think about the future of my 9-month-old son. Is it too much to ask that a working mother gets paid enough to put food on my own table without having to rely on food stamps?”

Restaurant workers at Copper River Grill have filed more than a dozen federal charges, including harassment, coercion, surveillance, interrogation, discrimination, and retaliation.

“I joined the “dine-in” to show support for these workers’ rights and reasonable demands,” said Spartanburg Rep. Harold Mitchell, Co-chair of the SC Progressive Network. “It’s wrong for corporations to rely on taxpayers to subsidize their low-wage, high-profit policies.”

Mitchell, who is also Chair of the SC Legislative Black Caucus, pledged to introduce legislation to protect often exploited service workers. “It’s against federal law to fire someone for organizing for better pay or working conditions. We need to require bosses to have a “just cause” to take someone’s livelihood away from them.”

“Apparently, Copper River thinks that the taxpayers are responsible for paying its workers,” Spartanburg resident Russell Bannan, an organizer for SC Jobs with Justice, the group spearheading the event. “That’s what Copper River is saying when it pays hard-working employees starvation wages.”

Community organizations participating in the “dine-in” included Jobs with Justice, SC AFL-CIO, Communication Workers of America, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, SC Progressive Network, and others.

South Carolina Jobs with Justice Organizing Committee is a statewide campaign for workers’ rights. Around the country, local Jobs with Justice Coalitions unite labor, community, faith-based, and student organizations to build power for working people.

SC deserves new voting machines

By Becci Robbins
SC Progressive Network Communications Director

A SC Legislative Audit Council report released March 27 on the state’s voting machines found serious glitches. “Problems with iVotronic machines that have been reported in elections in other states include vote flipping, candidates missing from screens, lost votes or too many votes, freezing, and batteries,” the report found.

The report didn’t mention that many of those states have quit using the iVotronics, which are no longer being manufactured. While these same problems have been widely observed in South Carolina, every precinct still uses them.”63% of the counties that had problems with the machines have not reported the problems to the State Election Commission (SEC),” the study reported, and recommended the SEC establish a hotline to track problems with the machines.

The SC Progressive Network has helped run a statewide election day hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE, in every general election since 2004. Network Director Brett Bursey said, “In the last general election, while all the news was focused on long lines in Richland County, we had calls from five other counties about machine problems causing hours-long waits to vote.”

EP-sign“The SEC has not gathered information about the increasing unreliability of these machines, which are reaching the end of their projected 10-year-lifespan,” Bursey said, and we welcome the LAC report as the start of a serious discussion about what our new voting system should look like.”The Network opposed the purchase of the iVotronic machines in 2004, in part, due to their inability to produce a voter-verified paper ballot that could be used to call a close race. The LAC report concluded, “The audit process in South Carolina is limited by the absence of a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT).” The LAC determined that a VVPAT could be added to the existing machines for $17.3 million.

The 2013 House budget includes $5 million that the SEC has requested to begin saving for a new system after 2016.

“Rather than consider patching up these machines, or buying more used ones as Richland County is planning, we need to be looking at better and cheaper ways to vote — well before 2016,” Bursey said.


The Network has long advocated a voter-verifiable voting system like the one Clemson has devised.

Dr. Juan Gilbert, Chair of the Clemson School of Computing, Human-Centered Computing Division, has been doing research and development on electronic voting systems since 2003. He got a $4 million grant from the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) several years ago to develop a better voting system. The EAC sets standards for voting machines, and has never approved the system currently used in South Carolina.

Gilbert’s “Prime III” meets federal requirements, and was used in a state election for the first time in January in Oregon. Prime III runs on open-source software, on machines available at any computer store. It’s simple, cheap, reliable, produces a voter-verified-paper ballot, and can be publicly owned. The privately owned system we now use costs $1million in annual licensing fees, more on tech support, and runs on secret codes.

“We see no legal impediments to using a system like Clemson has developed, and tremendous advantages,” Bursey said. “Clemson can provide the software, our technical schools can train technicians, and a whole new statewide system would cost little more than adding a paper trail to our old machines.”

Columbia Bus Riders Organize!


Columbia area bus and DART riders, along with public transit advocates, will launch the Midlands Transit Riders Association (MTRA) at a 2pm, April 3 press conference at the CMRTA (Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority) Transit Station, at the corner of Laurel and Sumter. Riders and advocates are urged to attend and share their stories about how public transportation affects them and how it can be improved.

Brittany Higgins, a spokesperson for the group, said that riders and advocates have been meeting for months to lay the groundwork for a riders association. “We believe that riders can provide the most informed advice about how CMRTA services are delivered,” Higgins said. “The CMRTA will benefit from organized input.”

Higgins, a recent Columbia College graduate, became a bus rider after years of questioning whether or not she should drive because of the symptoms of her physical disability. “I rely on public transportation,” she said. “I am looking forward to improvements that will allow me to live my life to the fullest.”

The MTRA’s mission statement reads: “The Midlands Transit Riders Association is a nonprofit organization of riders and advocates for safe, efficient, environmentally sensitive, affordable public transportation. We believe that our communities deserve public transportation that meets the needs of those who must use it, as well as a system good enough that people want to ride.”

Virginia Sanders, SC Progressive Network Co-Chair, has been working with riders for six months. She said, “Columbia’s bus riders have never had a voice in how their tax dollars are spent on public transportation, and we don’t want to leave all the decisions up to those who rely on low-wage workers getting to their jobs.” Sanders, a public transit advocate, has been appointed to the county’s penny tax oversight committee that will monitor how the $300+ million designated for public transit is spent.

“Bus drivers are the only connection most riders have with the service they get,” said driver Lucious Williams. “So we are the only ones to hear their complaints.” Williams has been driving a bus in Columbia for 33 years, and is vice president of the bus drivers union.

CMRTA drivers work for Veolia, a French-owned global transportation corporation, and many are represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 610. “The riders need to organize if they want to have an effective voice,” said Williams. “This will help overall improvements in the CMRTA system.”

Midlands Transit Riders Association goals:

  • Educate the public about the benefits and challenges of public transit.
  • Facilitate the voice of riders in public transit decisions.
  • Serve as a vehicle for community input to improve public transit.
  • Reduce pollution through the use of alternative fuels, smaller buses and feeder routes.
  • Assure safe, well-maintained buses, shelters, stops and transit station.
  • Advocate for efficient service with expanded routes, days and hours of public transit.
  • Strive for affordable rider fees.
  • Reduce auto traffic through park-and-ride and expanded service.

Membership in the MTRA is free and open to riders and public transit advocates. For more information, call 803-808-3384 or email