The late Orangeburg City Councilman Dr. Everette Salley never bought into the idea that municipal elections should be held in conjunction with other voting in off years in November. He and city leaders in Orangeburg resisted the state’s efforts to consolidate all voting on the same day.
The reasoning for holding city and town elections on the first Tuesday in November in odd years is sound if for no reasons other than reducing costs by conducting and managing elections all on the same day, and fostering voter awareness of when municipal voting will occur every two and four years.
Salley argued that moving voting to coincide with school trustee and other races should not be needed to attract voters to the polls. He contended a smaller turnout of voters caring enough to cast ballots was preferable.
Yet a conservative such as Salley could not argue that moving to reduce expense by opening polls for trustee, municipal and other voting on the same day in November makes fiscal sense. And it’s hard to see voter turnout not being improved in the process.
But there is one aspect of seeking to streamline costs for city and town elections that went too far, disenfranchising voters in the process.
Voters in the City of Orangeburg experienced it in one council race in September and residents in a number of T&D Region towns saw the same thing happen on Tuesday: Candidates were elected without their names ever appearing on the ballot.
The process is unique to municipal voting based on a 2003 state law requiring no city or town election when only one candidate files for election to each position and no write-in candidates make themselves known within two weeks after the filing period.
The law is practical in that so often finding people to serve in municipal positions can be a challenge. And when there are those willing to declare their candidacies, why go to the expense of an election and ask voters to come the polls to cast ballots for unopposed candidates? Because on the day of the election, an eligible voter should have the option of voting for an unopposed candidate or writing in the name of someone he or she believes should fill the position.
The 2003 law makes write-in candidacies, which often are late-developing, impossible. The law should not have lasted nearly a decade-and-half and likely would not have passed the constitutionality test if challenged.
But after Tuesday’s voting, it is history, thanks to the efforts of Rep. Laurie Funderburk of Kershaw County.
Cindi Ross Scoppe, associate editor of the The State newspaper of Columbia, explained in a Tuesday column that Funderburk began in 2015 trying to have the law rescinded. After her 2016 bill came up short of passage, she tried again in 2017. The House approved in March and the Senate followed just days before the legislative session ended in May with its own version. The House agreed to Senate changes and candidates for city and town elected positions will again have their names on ballots on Election Day in November – unopposed or not.
The Senate change in the bill postponed implementation of the law until Jan. 1, 2018, which is why some towns on Tuesday elected officials without ever holding an election and voters in others only had a partial slate of candidates from which to choose.
Dr. Salley believed that people should care enough to let their votes be counted. Electing people whose names never appeared on the ballot deprived them of that right. A return to elections as they should be was essential.