Scoppe on elections commission: Excellent column on why a horrendous mess is worse than you thought

Cindi Scoppe did a good job this morning of telling us why the Richland County elections mess is even worse than we thought. An excerpt:

JUST WHEN you thought the mess that is the Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration couldn’t get any worse — never a safe assumption when we’re dealing with the spawns of the Legislative State — we learn that the temporary stay that had allowed the unconstitutional board to keep operating was lifted. In December.

Which means … well, that’s a good question.

It should mean that former commissioner Sam Selph is not interim director of the agency, because the board that last week appointed Mr. Selph had no legal authority to act.

For that matter, it should mean that Howard Jackson still is the director, because surely a board that has been declared unconstitutional would not take personnel actions of such magnitude.

It should mean that we have returned to thestatus quo ante — with separate boards running separate offices of elections and voter registration, with new commissioners who have the knowledge and capability and integrity to make legal hiring decisions and run legitimate elections.

But clearly the latter has not happened, and there’s a little glitch that makes far from clear when it can happen or what must happen on the other fronts. Which should surprise no one…. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is very like a complete breakdown of government, one in which functions that are fundamental to our democracy have ceased to work, and no one is clearly in a position to fix the problem. Which is what you get when you let fundamental services be provided by cockeyed legislation unconstitutionally pushed into place by that bizarre hermaphroditic creature, the county legislative delegation.

As an addendum to her column, Cindi referred us to a previous piece she did last year about this mess — explaining the Power Failure, Legislative State roots of the problem — which concluded thusly:

The Legislative State might have served its purpose in the days when slaves picked cotton for the wealthy plantation owners whose interests it was crafted to serve. It might have worked a century ago, when the textile magnates controlled our government and could depend on it to provide those limited services that they needed. Maybe it even served its purpose in the ’50s, when South Carolina still could pretty much ignore the rest of the world, and government didn’t do a lot more than educate white people and pave roads for the industrialists and planters.

It does not serve its purpose, or our purpose, or anybody’s purpose today.

When things go well, it gives us state agencies that waste money and provide inferior services because they have overlapping mandates and don’t work together or even talk to each other. It hamstrings governors’ ability to deliver on the agenda the voters elected them to implement. It diverts state legislators’ attention from fixing our state’s problems, as they busy themselves delivering patronage and fixate on parochial matters that should be handled by local governments.

And when things don’t go well …. Well, then it gives us botched elections and identity theft on a massive scale and officials who lack the legal authority to make things right.

It’s time for a change.

That piece ran in 2012. Nothing has changed.Which is no surprise to those of us who’ve been writing about these problems for more than two decades.

24 thoughts on “Scoppe on elections commission: Excellent column on why a horrendous mess is worse than you thought

  1. Doug Ross

    I wish she would focus more on the people involved than the “system”. The people are the ones who screw this up. It was absolutely amazing to me that The State would publish an editorial calling for the resignation of the entire Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration… and yet not mention the name of a single member of that board in the piece! Why not instead publish the editorial underneath a photo of each member, including their name and contact information? These PEOPLE need to be held accountable..

    Read more here:

    1. Mark Stewart

      But they aren’t. Apparently not even to Judge Cooper. Why name them if they aren’t the root problem? They are beyond shame anyway.

      The problem is, the same may be true of the Richland County delegation as well; at least many of them appear that way…

        1. Barry

          I read that- hmmm. Will wait to see if true.
          I was always perplexed how a pastor of a large church had the time to be a legislator – and involved in local politics up to the neck.

          It’s obvious Senator Jackson doesn’t care at all about the Richland County Election mess – and few people – including The State newspaper will cal him out on it.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Naming the individuals would be fine by me. But I don’t see it as any sort of omission that they were not named — since the piece called for ALL OF THEM to go.

      But this is an old debate between Doug and me. Like me, Cindi does indeed think in terms of systems. Maybe she and I would approach things differently in a state where the structure and systems and practices were more rational and accountable. Then, when things went wrong, it would more clearly be because THIS or THAT person didn’t follow the rules.

      But in a place where the rules themselves are as messed up as they are in South Carolina, it’s very important to make sure people understand that. Because if you let people think, “Oh, if we just get this or that bad actor out, things will be fine,” then nothing will ever get better. Because you can put good people into a rotten system, and you’re still going to get rotten results.

      People need to understand how bad the system is, and demand change in THAT if government is going to work better in South Carolina.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    This another example of the sort of breakdown that happens when home rule as required by the state constitution is not followed. Another is special purpose districts.
    Our governing system is badly flawed as it is, as Scoppe frequently tells us and as she alludes to in the “Legislative State” epithet. When we don’t even follow the exisitng system, a total SNAFU.

    Agree with Doug that the putative incumbents on the elections board are to blame, or at least a majority are. A friend suggested I apply to fill the vacancy, but I am reluctant to get down with the dogs (figuratively, of course. I spend a lot of my time down with actual flea-free dogs). There may be honorable folk on that board who have simply tried and failed to work within the system.

    1. Doug Ross

      Please consider it Kathryn. An article I read said they were looking for someone with a legal background. You have til the 13th to decide.

      Until we get a different type of person on the board, nothing will change. People can overcome bad systems… but even good systems can be destroyed by incompetent or unethical people.

      If I were able to participate on these types of boards, I would let everyone I come in contact with know that every conversation related to the board would be documented and published by me. There are very, very, very few occasions where the people’s business should be private.

    2. Silence

      Kathryn, I’ll second Doug’s plea for you to consider applying for the board. They need some people on there who are competent, motivated to improve the system, and beyond reproach. People who understand the system, and how to work within it. People who weren’t involved in making the current abortion. You would need to go in and crack some skulls.

      1. Mark Stewart

        Throw your name in, Kathryn. But I don’t think skull-cracking should be part of the board’s (or boards’) job.

        It’s up to the public to demand accountability and to insure competency is promoted.

          1. Mark Stewart

            Ensure; thanks. Leadership, persuasion and integrity are key parts of the job. The trick to governance is to avoid self-inflicted damage.

          2. Kathryn Fenner

            The New Yorker style book calls for “insure”–as well as spelling the word as “vender” ….. Ugh

          3. Brad Warthen

            There are certain publications that think so much of themselves that I suspect them of choosing odd style standards in order to project the message, “This is right and true because it’s the way WE do it…” And the odder the better, so that the point can’t be ignored…

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    Professor Duncan Buell, an expert in electronic voting, and colleague of my husband has applied….

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    Duncan Buell is our best hope. He has extensive experience as an election volunteer, has published papers on election methods….he was a firebrand as the chair of the computer science department and as acting dean of the engineering school. I don’t want to give them a reason to overlook him! If they are serious at all about cleaning this mess up (ha ha hah) they will choose him. If they do not, we know the system is toast, once and for all.

  5. Mark Stewart

    Good people need good systems to govern well. Good systems are possible when society is committed to improvement – for today and tomorrow.

Comments are closed.