Friday, January 29, 2010

Municipal elections in SC should be uniform

Throughout South Carolina, municipalities have varying election dates. Some are in even numbered years. Some are in odd numbered years. Some are in the spring. Some are in the fall. Frankly, it is hard for most residents to keep up when to vote for the government that is closest to them.

Municipal elections are the least covered elections in South Carolina, yet they are important. Deciding who is Mayor or who sits on city or town councils is politics at its most basic. It affects daily life up front and personal. Elections for municipal offices determine who runs the local police and fire services, who runs the local water, sewer and garbage collection, who runs local recreation, and who pays what for all of that.

Indeed, the affects of municipal government upon South Carolinians is only matched by the confusion around electing who is to run such governments. The elections for municipal governments are scattered all over the calendar. Further, they are subject to municipal governments changing this or that election date, making the people’s servant’s time in office longer or shorter than what the people contracted with them via election.

South Carolina’s scattered approach to municipal elections is why the people seem less empowered to deal with the government that deals with them most directly. Every two years, South Carolina holds a General Election. Member of the SC House are elected, as are members of the United States House. Media and public attention is drawn to those dates, which also produce in set even numbered years, elections for President, United States Senator, Governor, SC Senate, state constitutional officers, and various school boards. South Carolina recognizes the first Tuesday after the first Monday of every even numbered year as a date for a General Election. As such, the media, and through them, the people focus on those dates every two years in deciding candidates.

If municipal elections are to truly reflect the will of the people and get their full attention, then all municipal elections in South Carolina should be held on an even numbered year General Election date.

Otherwise, the current patchwork of dates rewards those narrow interests who “game” the elections to gain power over their neighbors. Think about it. “Election season,” as defined by the major media most people get their news from, is on the date in November in even years. A municipal election held in an odd year, or in an offhand month, will be ignored. Average folks then are left to walk around wondering how someone like the Mayor of Wellford got elected. Most of her residents probably did not even know about the Election Day that propelled her to office.

Further, moving the municipal elections in South Carolina to the General Election dates would restore credibility to municipal governments. Think again about it. If you are elected Mayor of a town or city on the first Monday after the first full moon of the harvest season after your council extended your term, how much credibility and moral authority do you really have?

Local government is where the political rubber meets the road. That is why VUI says, let the better aspects of Home Rule remain. Let the local guys call the shots. But, we should elect them in a uniform way that reflects the values of America. Every municipal government should be elected at the same time as other officials in the General Election. No municipal government should be allowed to extend the terms of its elected officials. The people need to enter into an informed contract with those that they choose to lead them, and that contract should be open and binding.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting to see that you call this a statewide problem, when in fact your beloved little Honea Path is the real problem. Didn't they just extend their terms a year? Why not mention that, Mr. McCarty?

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  2. I'd pretty much agree with you on the need for a standard election date, only make it odd-numbered years so those races don't get lost in the shuffle of state and national elections.

    Charleston County has done a good job of getting municipalities to move their elections to the first Tuesday in November of odd-numbered years. It seems to help the turnout.

    North Carolina requires all municipal and school board elections to take place on that date, and bond referenda to take place only on regular election days, not special elections, where small groups can turnout to push one through, or kill it.

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