AAUGH! No More? South Carolina Advances Bill to Fund Presidential Primary

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[Peanuts image by Charles Schultz courtesy of davepear.com]

Way back in 2011, I wrote about the battle between several South Carolina counties, the state and political parties about who was responsible for funding the state’s early presidential primary. The counties lost a court fight on that issue, but it now appears that the state is prepared to do its part in 2016 and beyond. MyrtleBeachOnline has more:

Taxpayers would continue to at least partly fund South Carolina’s first-in-the-South presidential primaries in the future under a bill backed by both major parties.

The bill, which lawmakers advanced Monday to the full House Judiciary Committee, clarifies that the State Election Commission is responsible for conducting the contests. It does that by deleting from state law a reference to the 2008 election cycle.

Rep. Alan Clemmons, the subcommittee’s chairman, said the bill means future presidential primaries will be funded through the budget like any other election, offset by filing fees that candidates pay.

“The whole intent is to have it paid for by the state,” said Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, who’s co-sponsoring the measure with Clemmons.

State GOP Chairman Matt Moore and state Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison both testified in support of the bill, saying the state’s first-in-the-South status that attracts national attention benefits taxpayers by bringing in millions in spending by candidates, media and political pundits.

The problem that arose in 2012 appears to have been a combination of changing laws and a legislative drafting error (or an oversight, or both) that ended up biting the counties:

Until 2008, South Carolina’s political parties ran and paid for their presidential nominating contests. Clemmons, former chairman of the Horry County GOP, said those were more loosely run by volunteers, with processes that included paper ballots and combining many precincts — sometimes offering just one polling place per county.

With federal law requiring presidential primaries to be run like any other election, legislators decided to put the election commission in charge of the wide-open race for the White House in 2008 and approved one-time funding for those contests.

As the 2012 GOP primary approached, four counties sued, arguing that lawmakers didn’t update the law. The state Supreme Court turned back the counties’ challenge that the state lacked the authority to hold the contest, but it created uncertainty with the GOP contest just weeks away.

The next challenge for the state if this bill is enacted will be to ensure that the primary is sufficiently funded, especially given that the race for the White House will once again be wide open:

The state spent $2.4 million in 2008, when there were both GOP and Democratic presidential primaries. The state spent $1.3 million on the Republican primary in 2012, according to the State Election Commission.

As the election season gets more crowded and election budgets get tighter, legislation like this becomes more and more important. I am certain that South Carolina counties won’t believe it until the bill is enacted, funded and the money is in their coffers in time for the 2016 vote. Stay tuned – they know that football has disappeared many times before.

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