Pickens County, SC Election Office, Board Resigns En Masse

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The entire Pickens County, SC election office – board, election director and staff – have resigned en masse, leaving the office completely empty with just two months before the state’s June primary. The Greenville News has more:

Pickens County’s elections director, its two elections staffers and five member board have resigned, according to a statement from the county.

A spokesman for the state’s Election Commission, Chris Whitmire, said he is not aware of any other instances where staff and an elections board resigned all at once in his 15 years with the commission.

It sets the county up for a complicated two months, as replacement staff will have to certify candidates, prepare ballots and handle the logistics of a primary election scheduled for June 9, Whitmire said.

The sudden mass vacancy leaves Pickens with a raft of positions to fill as the county continues to prepare for the June 9 primary, which has been postponed in the face of the coronavirus pandemic:

The county has sent two county workers to take the staff positions and Whitmire said the state commission has already begun to work with the new staff.

He said the former staff had completed most if not all of the paperwork required immediately after candidate filing was finalized Monday.

A new county elections board will have to be appointed, nominated by local state legislators and approved by the governor. The board hires a director and the director hires staff.

In this case, the two staff were not appointed by a director but getting them in place quickly was the best choice to keep county voters able to register to vote and to handle the logistics of a pending primary election, Whitmire said.

The group action follows the county election director’s already announced resignation, and blames a combination of micromanagement and neglect by state and county policymakers:

County Elections Director Rodney Allen submitted his notice of resignation earlier this month. Allen has not responded to a Facebook message seeking comment and does not have a publicly listed phone number.

The county’s Board of Registration and Elections submitted on Monday to local state legislators a collective resignation letter signed by the five board members.

In a copy of the letter provided by the county, the members said they were resigning because of interference by the county’s administrator, the legislative delegation and the County Council.

The letter says the county has understaffed and underfunded its elections operations for years, stretching any director “beyond human capabilities.”

One major issue appears to be alleged interference by members of the county legislative delegation, which in South Carolina is granted significant authority and influence over county operations. The legislators involved say they were just responding to complaints about the office’s performance – complaints echoed by the county’s administrator:

The letter alleges that state Sen. Rex Rice and state Rep. Davey Hiott, two Republican members of the county’s legislative delegation, came to the elections office during the presidential primary count on Feb. 29 and told board members they needed to fire Allen.

The letter said it was a violation of election law and state open meetings rules that require notice of meetings of public officials.

Rice told The Greenville News on Tuesday that he and Hiott had gone to the elections office after hearing several complaints from poll workers waiting outside the offices after the presidential primary as well as prior complaints.

Rice said he asked the board to make a change and asked them to reconsider the position of director.

Acting Pickens County Administrator Ken Roper said in the county’s statement that he was not involved in Allen’s resignation but had been disappointed in the election office’s handling of the presidential primary.

Roper said last week that following the presidential primary election in February, poll workers waited outside while elections officials counted office supplies from each polling location before allowing the next group to submit their information.

The administrator assailed the departed board members and staff for a deliberate effort to hamstring the county in advance of the June primary – and the legislative delegation signaled it would move quickly to re-install a new board to oversee the office in time to manage the upcoming vote:

In a statement released Tuesday, Roper said he fears there was a “coordinated effort between the board, the director and his staff to leave us in a lurch during the middle of an election cycle and a pandemic.”

Rice said he and other members of the legislative delegation have identified five new people to take over the board’s operations and he expects they would be in place in plenty of time to be able to oversee and certify the anticipated June 9 primary.

I’ve written in the past about South Carolina’s unique election structure, particularly the role of county legislative delegations; it creates another layer of oversight – by individuals with a direct stake in electoral outcomes – that can be challenging for election officials to manage. It was clearly too much for the Pickens office to take, but the quick action by the county and delegation to fill the vacancies suggests the resignations aren’t likely to change the way elections are at the local level in the Palmetto State. Stay tuned …

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