Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Monday, December 08, 2008

All this talk about Opacity and Satatus Quoness South Carolina's State Government can't be that bad, can it?

Entrenched Power Brokers will beget a corrupt power system. And Ben Tillman's baby has grown up to become a big bloated beast... that, like Ben "Pitchfork" Tillman, excludes people from the process still to this day.

You think getting your legislators to vote on the record should be easy? Try just voting in general in South Carolina. Last week the progressive network held a series of town hall meetings around the state. I had an opportunity to attend the one in Columbia and learned quite a bit from the panel on the voting process in South Carolina and what inhibits that process from happening smoothly and fully.

Did you see the Op-Ed in The State last week by Bret Bursey and Rep. Joe Neal? It was a precursor and primer to the discussion at the Richland County Complex that was held on Thursday the 4th. If you missed it, I'm going to reprint it below and follow it up with some thoughts and 'ah ha' points from the meeting last Thursday.

Were you one of the many South Carolinians who stood in line to vote early this election, only to be told that our state doesn't have early voting?

If you were confused about how you couldn't vote early but could vote "in-person, absentee ballot" — provided you had one of 15 excuses to qualify — you weren't alone. Even our election officials don't always agree on protocol. South Carolina's voting laws are a hodge-podge of inconsistent rules that are interpreted and enforced by 46 independent county election directors.

Our voting system traces its roots to the constitution of 1895, which effectively codified Jim Crow laws that made it nearly impossible for black men to vote. Women couldn't vote until 1921. For more than a century, South Carolinians have been required to register to vote 30 days before an election. The rules were enacted at a time when horses were used to deliver the ballots to the county seat — way before telephones, the Internet or even Strom Thurmond.

Ben Tillman's constitution established the county boards of elections we are still using. The governor appoints "discrete electors" to determine who votes and how in each county, some nominated by county councils, others by legislative delegations. There is no consistency in how they run their counties' voting systems.

On the last day of voter registration this year, two counties were not open, 12 advised voters to call them to find out their hours, and the rest closed anywhere between 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. When the ACLU's Voting Rights Project called the state's 46 county offices in August to survey them on how an ex-offender would go about registering, six said the applicants simply needed to sign the voter registration application, 36 said they had to bring in paperwork showing their sentences had been completed, one said they couldn't ever vote again, and the rest were unsure.

There is no law requiring ex-offenders to prove they have finished their sentence in order to vote, but when pressed by the S.C. Progressive Network, the State Election Commission said it was up to counties to determine how they handle the registrations of the 18,000 ex-offenders a year who are eligible to vote.

It's evident we need better clarity and consistency. While we have good people running our county election boards, we have been patching up a system that is antiquated and flawed. It's time for an overhaul, and perhaps the best place to start is by offering early voting.

South Carolina is one of only 13 states that require an excuse to vote early. Eight states allow voters to register on Election Day, and voters there turn out in greater numbers. Voters in North Carolina can register and vote at one-stop voting centers from the third Thursday to the last Saturday before the election. In Georgia, voters can vote beginning Sept. 22, no excuses required. Citizens of 32 other states can vote early without an excuse.

South Carolina's system increased waiting time this year by requiring each voter to give a poll worker an acceptable reason for voting early. The poll workers had to print out a form and get the voter to sign an application for an absentee ballot. This election, with its unprecedented turnout, resulted in elderly and disabled voters who were legitimately taking advantage of early voting having to stand in lines waiting at times more than four hours.

On Election Day, the most frequent complaints that came into the S.C. Election Protection Hotline that the Progressive Network helped staff were from voters who had ID problems or were told they weren't on the rolls. If voters had a three-week window to vote, they would have had time to address their problems. More votes would be cast and counted, and Election Day would be a lot less hectic — for voters as well as poll workers.

These are among the reasons the S.C. Association of Registrars and Electors named
no-excuse early voting as its legislative priority in the coming year. Election officials can do a better job of making sure every eligible voter gets to cast a vote that counts if they don't have to do it in a single 12-hour day.

There is no excuse to continue using this antiquated and cumbersome system. The network and the Legislative Black Caucus will introduce legislation this coming session for early voting centers, among other remedies to improve voting procedures and turnout. The bill will allow counties to establish multiple no-excuse voting sites three weeks prior to elections.

Getting this bill passed and implemented will require a partnership with county election officials, county councils, legislators and voting-rights advocates.

It is past time for no-excuse early voting in South Carolina.Mr. Neal represents Richland and Sumter counties in the S.C. House; Mr. Bursey is director of the S.C. Progressive Network. Details of their legislative proposals are at

The meeting convened shortly after 6 last Thursday, the panel included: Lilian McBride, Director of Voter Registration Richland County; Mike Cinnamon, Director of Richland County Election Commission; Paul Livingston, Richland County Council; and Representative Joe Neal, District 70. The meeting was Socratic in structure and the crowd was intimate with about 20 people present who's make up included other election commissioners, activists and concerned citizens.

Below is a synopsis of the discussion, though themes of question lines and discussion did cross.

The first round had to deal with resources, or more pointedly the lack of resources. To say that the counties and election boards were overwhelmed this election cycle is putting it nicely - they managed and were successful but not without going into the red. Commission Director Cinnamon said that some bills were still outstanding and that money would have to come from some where in the county's budgets to cover the costs of printing the rolls for each precinct and the record number of absentee ballots that had to be printed this year. With the discussion of resources were also a discussion on early voting.

South Carolina is behind it's neighboring states in allowing Early voting - in that it doesn't. You have 15 possible valid excuses to vote absentee early and despite most counties ignoring absentee rules - i.e. anyone can vote if you come, there are stipulations and a lot of red tape that should be removed for the process. Perhaps the biggest concern would be money. Without it, Lillian McBride says, they wouldn't be able to hire the appropriate number of staff and the requisite equipment. For Mr. Cinnamon the issue is more logistical, specifically for larger counties. He stated that smaller counties could probably just do the early voting within their registration offices, but for counties like Richland, Charleston, Greenville, Horry and others designating early voting venues would be difficult. He then went on to say that you had to coordinate and print voter roles (and ostensibly more if you're continuously voting persons). The panel discussed at a question at my behest - the feasibility of going electronic. All agreed that that would be great, the up front cost certainly would work it self out over time - the problem, and especially in light of the budget woes would be coming up with the monies to supply the appropriate equipment. Rep. Neal reminded us that technology is great and he's all for the savings from printing and other services that electronic records and such would create - the problem is currently state laws mandate that there are paper voter rolls (even though no receipts for voting machines).

The panel discussed voter purging from the roles. Rep. Neal and all on the panel agreed that the current guidelines for purging need to be reexamined. Currently if you haven't voted - not that you're dead, moved, or other common sense reason, simply that you've not voted in 10 years, your name is purged. And then there's the disparity of requirements from county to county if you're an ex-felon. In some most counties you have to go around your elbow to get to your you know what to prove that you've served your time and are therefore eligible to vote. And what about the obfuscation that has occurred on the campuses of historically black colleges around this state where higher proportions of students who have registered are also dropped from the rolls than in other university communities. And what about if you desire to vote. Our arcane laws require that there is a cut off of 30 days for registration or changes. And as stated in the Op-Ed that's not only an out-dated law it's also outmoded. Again as Mr. Cinnamon cautiously relayed, because of the restraints of paper it'd be difficult and nearly impossible to remove that barrier to voting.

One final question I asked before leaving to meet Not Very Bright for a beer was what about utilizing even the slimmest band of the ETV broadcast bandwidth that the state is (as of yet) still undecided what to do with it. It's all over the state it would give fast enough access for folks from Allendale to Clio to Peak and Woodruf down to Lobecco and Aynor access to a network and system that could be fast enough and secure enough to perform all the processes for early voting adequately. It would rid the need for redundant paper trail. With the appropriate computer systems - which have been readily available, commercially, for years it could and would be secure enough and would be able to discern vote duplication, etc - and so said Rep. Neal.

We live in the 21st century it's time that our laws and practices whether it's the voting in our legislature or voting on election 'day' be more Representative to the values of democracy by being accessible and transparent. The stumbling blocks codified in law because of Jim Crow grow mossy with age and it's time to sweep them out of the way.

But hey, impeding people from voting serves an interest, a self interest of those in power - they can grow fat from the largess of political power and maintain an insipid cycle of desperation and stagnation until ultimately the state they aim to control in subsumed by their very desire to maintain power -- oh wait that's happening now - the first shall be last and the last shall be first and in South Carolina it's for all the wrong things from violent crime to graduation rates and these sad stories and statistics draw from the same source, the same root of a corrupt government designed at the hands of a rabid racist to protect a certain political class who suckled at his teat and towed his line, yes even to this day even if they don't know it. But again, aware or not, why let a little democracy stand in the way of tyranny?

And speaking of the State's Broadband potential - on Tuesday night at 7pm the Progressive Network will be having a regular meeting on Tuesday December 9, 2008 at the Modjeska Simpkins House at 2025 Marion Street.Check it out and see you tomorrow night.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for covering this. You are tomorrow's MSM.
Brett Bursey

Mattheus Mei said...

Thanks Brett, though technically that could be the kiss of death!