History was made yesterday in the SC House Judiciary Election and Ethics Laws Subcommittee when Chairman Alan Clemmons approved two bills that the SC Progressive Network supported in hearings. These bills, which will make voting more transparent and accountable, are the first Network-promoted bills in 10 years to clear Rep. Clemmons’ committee. (He was the primary sponsor of the photo ID bill that the Network fought for several years.)
The first bill, H-3198, sponsored by Richland Rep. James Smith (D), will put the State Election Commission in charge of elections. The current voting system gives each of the 46 county Election Boards independence from centralized control. The system was designed by the state constitution of 1895 to disenfranchise black citizens by allowing the senator from each county to appoint the board. This was following a decade when the SC House was the only legislative body in the nation that was majority-black.
Rep. Clemmons signed onto the bill, stating that a centralized authority would make for more professional and consistent management of elections.
For years, the Network has advocated giving the State Election Commission authority over the county boards. “The SEC can only advise the county boards, and they often have different interpretations of the laws,” said Network director Brett Bursey. “It’s difficult to explain to people that no one is in charge of elections in South Carolina.”
The second bill, H-4364, was drafted by Bursey and introduced by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter. He referred to the bill as a “State Section 5 Registry,” filed after the US Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of racial discrimination to “prefile” changes to voting procedures to insure that they did not negatively affect minority voters.
“With the loss of the federal Section 5 registry,” Bursey testified, “there is no public notice of voting changes.” Clemmons agreed with Bursey that citizens deserve to be notified of changes to election laws, and approved H-4364’s requirement that all changes will be reported to the SEC and posted on the its web site.
“This won’t keep bad things from happening,” Bursey said, “but at least voters and advocacy groups will be given notice before they take effect.”