South Carolina has for the time being ceded the news spotlight on election "reform" to Texas, Georgia and a few other battleground states. The playbook has been the same: make fantastical claims of "fraud" to tighten the Republican grip on the election process.
But now that the South Carolina Legislature is back in session, we might have our turn in the spotlight.
Hundreds of bills on all sorts of subjects have been pre-filed in both chambers of the General Assembly. Many deal with some aspect of the election process. They foretell how Republican legislators would like to change the process to insure it works to their advantage.
The only one to have received much attention so far is H.3444, which has 28 sponsors (a lot). It would disband the current State Election Commission (SEC) and empower Governor Henry McMaster to appoint five new members. Two would come out of the Legislature (one Republican and one Democrat). McMaster would name the other three, no doubt Republicans. One of these five would serve as Chair. This new Commission would hire a full-time Executive Director, a crucial appointment.
Once it's up and running, the new SEC would require all county boards of election to operate in a uniform fashion; that is, each board will have to implement standardized processes for elections. Those processes will be established by the new SEC.
County election officials who fail to follow the Commission's "policies, procedures, and standardized practices" could face re-training or termination.
Until we see the identities of the new Commissioners and the Executive Director, and until we digest the new "standardized procedures" they promulgate, we cannot know what McMaster and the Legislature intend, but it likely won't be neutral or bi-partisan.
The SEC is currently without an Executive Director. Marci Andino, who served in the position for 18 years, resigned last May. She was a highly regarded impartial public servant. H.3444 was filed before she resigned, while the passions around voter "fraud" were being stoked by Donald Trump. She saw this Republican firestorm coming.
Perhaps this "reform" effort will bring needed consistency, professionalism and fairness to elections in all the counties. If so, that would be terrific. However, H.3444 could be a Republican takeover of the election process that, in tandem with other "reforms" concerning absentee voting, voter re-registration, and early voting will limit participation and help Republicans maintain power as the state inexorably turns Blue.
As if H.3444 isn't problematic enough, consider S.129, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey. This bill simply does away entirely with the SEC and turns over its duties to the Secretary of State... lock, stock and barrel. I'll bet $100 you don't know who the Secretary of State is. I didn't. It's Mark Hammond. He was elected to the position in 2002 and has been re-elected four times. His position is on the ballot this year. He is, needless to say, a Republican.
What does the office of the Secretary of State do? It registers businesses and non-profits; maintains a variety of state records; oversees cable franchises in the state; regulates charitable organizations; maintains a database of state notary publics; and a thousand other things. Overseeing elections has not been one of them.
Centralizing control of South Carolina elections in an elected Secretary of State who is operating without the oversight of non-partisan election professionals is asking for trouble.
Then we have H.4550. Not content with election oversight provided by the SEC, this bill creates REIN, the Restore Election Integrity Now committee.
REIN would ride herd on the SEC. It would have seven members: three from the House, one being a Democrat; three from the Senate, one being a Democrat; and a seventh member appointed by the Governor. This would no doubt be a Republican. This creates a REIN committee that is 5-2 Republican.
Similar to the mandate for the SEC, REIN would also be empowered to oversee election "uniformity" throughout the state. It would guarantee "the security of the vote before, during and after election day." It would look into how voting machines store and transmit data. It would be required to conduct forensic audits of 2020 election results (yes, 2020!) in three counties to determine if any fraud was committed. (No doubt the three counties selected will be ones with large Black/Democratic registration.) This exercise would put South Carolina into the same loony bin with Arizona in wasting money on bogus audits.
Finally, another bizarre "reform" has been introduced by Republican Senator Sandy Senn, who represents the 41st District in Charleston. In S.365 she proposes that voters register every three years; if they do not, they would be removed from the voter rolls.
The bill is so poorly drafted that it is not clear if persons who have voted regularly in every election would also have to re-register, or why that should be necessary. (It should not.) Senn's bill seems to be nothing other than voter harassment and an effort to limit participation.
All this proposed legislation in Columbia points to the same outcome we are witnessing in other states. Republican "watchdogs" look for ways to push aside non-partisan election umpires in favor of highly partisan Republicans who never saw a Democratic victory that wasn't "fraudulent."
None of this is law, yet. If you want to check out this proposed legislation, visit scstatehouse.gov. You can chart each bill's progress....to oblivion, we hope.