Beaufort News

Dispute over presidential primaries escalates

Beaufort County election officials are finding allies statewide in their effort to keep local tax money out of South Carolina's presidential primaries, and at least one county now plans a lawsuit.

The S.C. Election Commission intends for local election boards to conduct next year's GOP primary, and a Democratic one, if necessary. But some county leaders object, saying they'll be left with the tab for tens of thousands of dollars in unbudgeted election-related expenses.

The Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections wrote the state commission Sept. 6 asking the agency to reconsider.

Others weren't far behind.

Election boards in York, Hampton and Dorchester counties have adopted similar positions, and Spartanburg County Council voted unanimously Friday to file a legal challenge to the commission's mandate.

After the meeting, Spartanburg County Council chairman Jeff Horton described the GOP's planned primary as a "beauty contest."

"Quite frankly, if the money is not allocated from either the state election commission or from either party, then I don't intend to hold one in Spartanburg County," Horton said. "Because we simply do not have $125,000 to operate the election."

Anticipated costs vary from county to county and depend on whether one or two primaries are held. Some expenses, but not all, are reimbursed by the state.

For instance, in 2008, Beaufort County spent $230,247 to hold the Republican and Democratic primaries, according to county elections director Scott Marshall.

The state reimbursed $76,109. The final cost to county taxpayers was more than $154,000.

Marshall presented those numbers Sept. 12 to County Council. Recently, at the request of county administrator Gary Kubic, he provided County Council with copies of other counties' positions and statutes on the matter.

"The members of this county's Board of Elections are to be commended for being bold enough to speak first and loudly on this issue," Marshall wrote in a cover letter with the information. "I implore you to do the same."

It's unclear, though, how County Council will respond

No action has been taken yet, and the issue is not on the agenda for today's meeting. Attempts Friday to reach chairman Weston Newton were unsuccessful.

Horton said he expects Greenville County Council to join Spartanburg County's lawsuit this week and said Beaufort County's participation would be welcomed.

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at content:Let the GOP run its own primary, local election officials say, Sept. 7, 2011