Lawmaker to Question Connections Between Elections Office, Sales Tax Supporters
Lobbyists on behalf of the recently passed penny sales tax initiative have close connections to the county elections board and its oversight.
Editor's note: The Richland County legislative delegation hearing was postponed due to the Supreme Court ruling concerning the recount of Richland County ballots.
A series of potential conflicts between the Richland County elections commission and supporters of the recently passed 1-cent sales tax concerns some local lawmakers.
At least one member of the Richland County legislative delegation, Rep. Nathan Ballentine (R-71), said he plans to get answers when election officials appear at a hearing next Tuesday.
Three sources told Patch that Lillian McBride, who was named executive director of the combined voter registration and elections commission in summer 2011, is related to Frank E. McBride, a former state representative jailed for his role in Operation Lost Trust in the 1990s.
Frank McBride, who is married to county Clerk of Court Jeannette McBride, is still active in politics. Sources told Patch he was instrumental in the Get-Out-The-Vote effort for proponents of the Penny Sales Tax, which passed on Tuesday after being rejected by voters in 2010.
Lillian McBride was chosen to her post by the five-member elections board. But oversight of that board rests with the Richland County legislative delegation.
The delegation is chaired by State Sen. Darrell Jackson (D -21). Jackson is the former CEO of Sunrise Enterprises and business partners with Heyward Bannister. Bannister was the chief lobbyist for The Citizens for a Greater Midlands and chief strategist for the 1-cent sales tax issue.
Jackson has not returned phone calls on Thursday and Friday seeking comment.
Ballentine said he was unaware of any of these potential connections between the elections office and the penny sales tax until Patch brought it to his attention.
“I plan on asking about them at Tuesday’s hearing," he said.
But Rep. Leon Howard (D -76) said that the criticism directed at Lillian McBride is unfair.
“She is completely qualified for her position and is unnecessarily being made the scapegoat,” Howard said. “The long lines could have been avoided if the legislature had just passed early voting laws. And now they’re looking for someone to blame.”
The Tuesday public hearing in the Gressette Building, called by Richland County legislators. McBride will be on the hot seat.
Legislators are all but certain to ask McBride how she determined the number of voting machines to allocate per precinct (it’s mandated by law) and what measures were taken to assure that there were enough functional machines in the county to replace ones that broke down during the course of the day. Maintenance records have already been requested by media organizations and legislators.
The connections between the elections commission and the sales tax vote is just one of the controversies surrounding the issue of why thousands of Richland County voters had to wait as long as three, four and five hours on Tuesday.
A lawsuit filed by the South Carolina Democratic Party over the House District 75 race between Democrat Joe McCulloch and Republican Kirkman Finlay led to a countywide recount being launched on Friday. The suit (see attached pdf) claims that the election was run and the votes were counted in a “grossly incompetent manner.”
Before absentee ballots were counted McCulloch led by 46 votes. After, Finlay led by 265. But among the absentee ballots was batch that showed 267 for Finlay and zero for McCulloch. Circuit Judge Casey Manning called a hearing for next Tuesday at 10 a.m.
Furthermore, on the Richland County website there are no minutes for the last year’s worth of meetings which presumably would contain budget and maintenance information.
Regardless of who is at fault, Duncan Buell, Professor of Computer Science and a consultant to the League of Women Voters on voting technology said the problems could have easily been avoided.
“Clearly there was not the right amount of planning for the number of machines needed for each precinct,” Buell said.
Buell said that anecdotally, he had heard from a number of precincts and that the shortage of machines throughout the county and not in some locations.
Ballentine has had harsh words for Lillian McBride, but thus far has stopped short of calling for her resignation. He does wish he had been more active in the decision-making process to with the election commission to that hired McBride.
“It’s a Democratic majority in the county and the decision was left to them," he said. "In retrospect we should have been more diligent.”