S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Oct. 22, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.1022.voting.htm

Voting booth law needs to change
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

OCT. 22, 2006 -- Here's a dumb law that needs to change: In South Carolina, you are only allowed three minutes to spend in a voting booth to make your choices for candidates and on ballot initiatives.

If you look at November's ballot, it's pretty clear pretty quickly that it takes a lot more than three minutes just to read the five complicated constitutional amendments voters will consider. (It took us 4 minutes and 20 seconds.)

What that means is county election commissions are facing a big problem even before the balloting starts: whether to rush people in voting or to let them take their time.

The State Election Commission will leave it to counties to figure out how to interpret the state voting time restriction, which has been on the book for at least 30 years.

"We have no authority on how county election commissions conduct the election," said Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire. "But, of course, we provide guidance. What we would suggest how they handle it is that when three minutes has passed, they give the voter a friendly reminder that they've been in there three minutes."

If that's how it will be dealt with, a lot of precinct workers are going to be giving a lot of reminders. And a rushed voter isn't perhaps the best thing for a good democracy.

If the voter continues to stay for awhile, Whitmire said, "We would recommend that they force them to leave but handle it tactfully." Later, he added that such action should only be taken if they've been in the booth a really long time.

Whitmire said the Commission was taking steps to educate voters about the ballot and amendments before the election. They also will be given copies of the three pages of amendments while they're standing in line so they can read up on them to help speed their voting time.


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But this really isn't good for democracy - - and it's not good for the candidates or amendments under consideration.

A 5-minute time limit on voting originally started around the middle of last century, most likely as a way to subtly discourage voting by scores of new voters of color. When voting machines came on the scene, the limit was shortened to three minutes.

Perhaps a better way to deal with voting is to change the law to add more flexibility - - or just increase the time limit to 10 minutes, which many likely would find reasonable.

The current short limit could put a strain on elderly voters as well as those who are vision-impaired or need help in the booth. Mere time shouldn't be a tool used to disenfranchise people who show up at their precinct to do their American duty. State lawmakers need to take steps to increase voting participation, not keep old laws on the books that curb people's appetite for participating in democracy.

So what do you do this year if you're rushed along?

Our suggestion is to vote first for the candidates of your choice and then vote no on all of the constitutional amendments. If state lawmakers want to change the constitution that much, they can come back to voters later when they give them more time.

It might make sense just to vote no anyway:

Marriage. The so-called "Defense of Marriage" amendment that recognizes marriage is only between a man and woman is redundant. A law already is on the state books. Changing the constitution, as one former Charleston GOP city councilman has pointed out, institutionalizes discrimination against non-married people who may co-habitate.

Statehouse meeting. Amendment Two would allow the House and Senate to meet separately while the other was on break. A lot of folks would say it would be better that they not meet at all.

Retirement accounts. This measure would allow the state to invest in foreign companies. Whatever happened to the "Made in America" craze? Seems we should invest in the same place.

Tax cap. If you want to cap property taxes at 15 percent over five years, vote yes. But if you're not rich or have expensive property, more than likely this will give rich guys a long-term tax break at the expense of the middle class.

Eminent domain. This measure would keep the government from seizing private property for economic development reasons. Not a bad idea, except that such "takings" aren't viable under current state law, according to the South Carolina Law Review.

Send your comments to Andy Brack at brack@statehousereport.com. His book of commentary, Bugging the Palmettos, is available for $15.00. Click here for more.

Recent commentary

In recent weeks, Statehouse Report has profiled several key races:

Key S.C. races

lighter side
10/22: What ATM really means

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

10/14: State needs inspector general

To the editor:

I have done a lot of research on this topic and just read your July 31, 2005 commentary, "State needs performance review office."

To date, all proposed legislation for an OIG has been assigned by the Lieutenant Governor to the Judiciary Committee, chaired by [Sen. Glenn] McConnell. I understand that McConnell will never allow OIG legislation to ever see the light of day, regardless who the governor may be.

That takes us to the only other method in which OIGs are established in the various states, namely Executive Orders signed by Governors. Interestingly, Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia did just that on January 13, 2003 (see www.oig.ga.gov).

Naturally an OIG office would require funding by the legislature, and my discussions with the IOGs in Louisiana and Ohio and a former FBI agent and New York State OIG staffer lead me to believe that this can be done in South Carolina for between $1 million and $1.5 million. This is chicken feed compared to our state budget of, what, $5 billion? $6 billion?

Some of the OIG reports published on the Internet covering fraud, waste, abuse and corruption uncovered and people jailed are hilarious but it just goes to show you how dumb and greedy some of these government people -- including elected politicians -- are.

-- Jock Stender, Charleston, S.C.

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