You might be surprised.
SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey talks about the long-running debate he had with his mentor about the flag, which came off the dome in 2000 — and relocated to a more visible position on the State House lawn.
Outside the Senate chambers March 4, SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey explains to a reporter with The State why Truthful Tuesday activists blocked the road to the SC State House entrance. Eleven were arrested. (At the time of the interview, the protesters were still being processed at police headquarters, and Bursey thought 10 had been arrested.)
On Feb. 25, advocates for Medicaid expansion in South Carolina gathered at the State House for a “Day of Shame,” targeting senators as they went into session. The Senate is expected to take up the “Nullify Obamacare” bill as early as this week.
Organizers Brett Bursey and Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III remind us why we are there.
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.”
Orangeburg Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter tells Truthful Tuesday organizers at a meeting Feb. 4 that the SC Legislative Black Caucus fully supports their efforts, and that the Caucus is crafting a bill to expand Medicaid in South Carolina in 2014. There has never been a vote on the Affordable Care Act in South Carolina, so no lawmakers are on record supporting or opposing this landmark legislation.
In this clip, Cobb-Hunter delivers a powerful message to community organizers about this moment in time being an extraordinary opportunity. Highly recommended viewing for all members of the SC Progressive Network and Truthful Tuesday partners.
She also says she’s gathering bond money in case the time comes for civil disobedience.
Bookmark TruthfulTuesday.net, and stay in touch with a growing coalition of people from across the state who refuse to be held hostage by state lawmakers pushing an extreme agenda in South Carolina. Enough is enough.
See photos from the first Truthful Tuesday lobby outside the Governor’s Office Feb. 4.
SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey wrote this tribute to his mentor, Modjeska Monteith Simkins, upon the occasion of her death. It ran in the May 1992 issue of POINT, four years before the newspaper was archived online. Here is a scan of the piece. Click on the image to enlarge.
The article is among the research materials being assembled for the Network’s latest project, establishing the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights, set to launch Dec. 5, on what would have been Modjeska’s 114th birthday. Follow the progress of the project on Facebook. For more information, contact the Network at 803-808-3384 or email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or find us Facebook or Twitter.
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.”
“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.”
Dear Mr. DeMint,
We are writing to ask you to help pay for the election to replace you in the Senate. The South Carolina Election Commission estimates that the special election required by your resignation will cost South Carolina taxpayers about $1 million.
According to the Federal Election Commission, your Senatorial political action committee has $800,409 “cash on hand” and no outstanding debts (Team DeMint FEC ID S4SC00083, most recent filing 9/30/2012).
In 2010, your PAC gave a total of $1,150,000 to Republican parties in eight states other than South Carolina. That year you made a total of $7,500 in contributions to 19 South Carolina county Republican parties.
Your new million-dollar-a-year job at the Heritage Foundation affords you the opportunity to donate the remaining $800,409 in your campaign account to the SC Election Commission, removing that burden from South Carolina taxpayers.
According to FEC staff, your check to the SC Election Commission to pay for an election you necessitated would qualify as a “public purpose” as required by statute.
Your resignation from the Senate, and Congressman Tim Scott’s resulting appointment to your seat, will cost South Carolina taxpayers $1 million to pay for a special election.
We hope that you agree that paying for this election with campaign money you no longer need would honor both your constituents and your conservative values.
Director, SC Progressive Network