Lowcountry Headlines

Lowcountry Headlines


ELECTION DAY: Bill would streamline SC municipal elections

I vote today stickers roll, in US elections on American flag.

Photo: Joaquin Corbalan / iStock / Getty Images

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - More than 200 local elections will be held Tuesday across South Carolina on the traditional Election Day, the Tuesday immediately following the first Monday in November.

But in South Carolina, local elections can take place all throughout the year. Some lawmakers and election officials are pushing to change that.

While statewide and federal elections are held in even years, like 2024, most municipal elections in South Carolina are held in odd years like 2023.

But there is no law requiring this, and in fact, there are barely any restrictions on when municipal elections can be held in the state.

“I’m a pretty active voter. I’ll go ahead and confess before everybody here and God, I’ve missed a few here and there because I don’t know when the hell they’re happening - forgive the bluntness - and I think a lot of people feel that way,” Sen. Josh Kimbrell, R - Spartanburg, said.

When voters miss out on municipal elections, for positions like mayor and city council, they also miss out on races that most directly affect them and their communities.

Some lawmakers believe confusion about when these elections are should not be the reason voters don’t get to the polls.

“The old joke is, there’s an election day every Tuesday in South Carolina. So the goal here was to provide some standardization to that,” Rep. Brandon Newton, R - Lancaster, said.

Newton has filed a bill that would require municipal elections in South Carolina to take place in odd years, and elections would only be allowed on certain days.

While his original bill, which has already passed the House of Representatives, would allow three days for municipal elections in May, July, and November, a Senate panel reduced that to two days, in April and November.

The early voting options voters already have would still be offered.

The people running elections believe this proposed consolidation would help them out, too.

“It’s not just one day for voters to vote. There’s a lot of operational things that happen in election administration,” Charleston County Board of Elections and Voter Registration Executive Director Isaac Cramer said.

The legislation would also require all municipalities to use the state voting system in their local elections.

Newton said a handful of smaller cities and towns are using their own systems for their own elections, but the State Election Commission wants everyone under the same system for all races.

“It gives confidence to the voter because imagine if you’re voting and you’ve always voted on our system, and you walk in there, and there’s something different in front of you for this election. It’s confusion, but also, it hurts the trust in the system because why are you using a different system for just this one election?” Newton said.

Senators are also considering closing a loophole in state law that requires incumbents to stay in office if a candidate challenges municipal election results, while the challenge plays out in court.

“We don’t want to force anybody to continue to serve, essentially, against their will because they actually probably won’t,” Sen. Chip Campsen, R - Charleston, said.

Under rare circumstances, that loophole can leave a seat vacant and leave the people who live in the area it represents unrepresented in local government.

A city council seat in Sumter recently sat empty for several months while a losing candidate challenged the results of a 2022 election. In that case, the seat was unoccupied because the incumbent had died days before the election, and existing state law prevented the winner from serving until the challenge reached a conclusion.

An amendment Campsen proposed would allow the winner to serve once the results had been certified, usually just a few days after the election, as is the case for other elections, while any challenges proceed through the judicial system.

The bill now sits in a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. If it advances, the full Senate would not be able to debate and vote on it until the legislature returns to Columbia in January.

Copyright 2023 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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