Beaufort News

GOP payment offer doesn't go far enough, say election officials

The S.C. Republican Party has agreed to reimburse counties for all "legitimate" expenses they incur while conducting January's GOP primary, but the move hasn't eased counties' concerns.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Beaufort County elections executive director Scott Marshall. "But we're still being asked to run the primary in absence of a legal requirement."

Marshall and other county officials also say the statement released Tuesday night to announce the deal is too vague.

S.C. Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire wrote that the party will pay for all "legitimate" primary expenses, such as a "reasonable amount of overtime."

Counties are to be given details about what reimbursements will be allowed, but it's not clear when.

Attempts Wednesday to reach Whitmire for comment were unsuccessful.

"There's still a lot of unanswered questions," said Spartanburg County Council Chairman Jeff Horton. "What do they call 'reasonable' or 'unreasonable'? "

In 2004 and before, political parties ran their own primaries. The S.C. legislature passed a law in 2007 requiring the commission to conduct primaries in 2008. The question is whether that law -- and the authority it grants the commission to enlist counties to run primaries -- still applies.

Because the state typically reimburses counties for some, but not all, election-related expenses, thousands of local tax dollars could subsidize what opponents say is a party affair.

In 2008, for instance, Beaufort County spent $230,247 to hold Republican and Democratic primaries. The state reimbursed $76,109, for a final cost to county taxpayers of more than $154,000.

But news that the GOP plans to pay additional expenses, on top of what is normally reimbursed, hasn't placated county officials.

Spartanburg County's attorneys are preparing a lawsuit against the commission, which Horton said will be filed "shortly." Greenville County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to join that suit, according to The Greenville News.

In a Sept. 23 letter, Marshall urged Beaufort County Council to consider its options.

"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. "I implore you to do the same."

Council has not addressed the matter.

Because a ruling in the case brought by Spartanburg and Greenville counties would apply to the whole state, Beaufort County Council Chairman Weston Newton said he thinks it unlikely that council will spend taxpayer money to join the litigation.

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

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