Stop all the short-sighted tinkering with election law

info@islandpacket.comDecember 29, 2012 

South Carolina legislators should listen to local elections officials like Beaufort County's Scott Marshall before tinkering again with election law.

Marshall warns that wholesale reforms are needed, not more piecemeal changes.

"Until (that happens), nothing is going to make sense and the voter will not be served well," said Marshall, executive director of Beaufort County's Board of Voter Registration and Elections.

Lawmakers get into trouble when they approve small changes without making sure they mesh with other law. That's why the state primaries earlier this year were a fiasco that resulted in more than 250 candidates being removed from the ballot. It entailed two state Supreme Court rulings, legal challenges around the state, 11th-hour confusion for candidates and voters, and inconsistent interpretations from county to county. It all stemmed from a confusing law requiring electronic filing for some paperwork but not for others.

No wonder eyebrows are being raised as legislators from Florence and Richland counties push legislation to add precincts in their counties. It is in part a reaction to mayhem on Election Day in Richland County, in which voters waited hours to vote or were denied the right to vote in what appears to be gross incompetence by the local elections office.

Beaufort County also has some large precincts that probably need to be split. But Marshall is right to say that it cannot be done in a vacuum. Other requirements -- like the number of voting machines in each precinct -- also must be considered.

"It's a knee-jerk reaction to change one or two things without looking at the entire process, and that's dangerous," Marshall said.

He's right.

The state's politically-charged voter ID law, which wasn't in effect during the 2012 election, is another recent example of the legislature failing to see the big picture. It requires voters to show identification in order to vote at the poll, but not when they register to vote, or vote absentee.

A lot of things have to be done well for election day to come off without a major hitch. With redistricting, it can be tricky to even have the right ballots in the right precincts for the right voters. Running an election is not for amateurs, and it certainly isn't a job for anyone who is not detail-oriented.

And that must include the legislature. The legislature must pay better attention to the details and ramifications of what it is doing. The 2012 election season is proof enough that it needs help.

We support Marshall in his logical request that a task force comprised of legislators, state officials and county elections workers do a top-to-bottom review of state elections laws.

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