Updated election handbook addresses two new laws

During the first quarter of 2014, the Municipal Association will release an updated edition of the "Municipal Election Handbook." The Handbook will be available for purchase or download for free from the Association's website.  

While the revised edition contains numerous updates, there are two areas of significant change that immediately impact the roles and responsibilities of the Municipal Election Commission. These changes involve filing a candidate's Statement of Economic Interest and ensuring compliance with the new state voter identification law.

During the 2012 election cycle, a number of state and local candidates were barred from the ballot for failing to provide the MEC with a copy of their SEI at the time of filing for office. In response to this controversy, the General Assembly amended state law. Candidates are no longer required to provide the MEC with a copy of their SEI. The MEC's role is now limited to informing candidates at the time of filing that they are required to file the SEI and campaign disclosure documents directly with the State Ethics Commission. The MEC should refer candidates to the State Ethics Commission for more information.

Within five days of the closing of the municipal filing period, the MEC must prepare a candidates roster which includes the names of all candidates who filed for office. The roster must be filed with the State Ethics Commission. The Commission will use this roster to ensure compliance with SEI and campaign disclosure filing requirements. While the Ethics Commission may fine candidates who fail to file their SEI, failure to file the documents has no effect on ballot access.

Last year, the General Assembly also passed a voter identification law. The new law requires voters to show one of the following approved forms of photo identification to vote: SC driver's license, ID card issued by the SC Department of Motor Vehicles, SC voter registration card with photo, federal military ID or U.S. passport.

A voter without an approved photo ID has two options to vote, both involve the use of a provisional ballot.

The first option applies to a voter who forgets to bring his photo identification to the polling place. The voter should be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. The MEC must count the ballot if the voter has shown his photo identification to the MEC before the certification hearing. If the voter does not provide his photo identification, the MEC must not count his ballot.

The second option applies to a voter who does not have photo identification. The voter can provide his voter registration card without a photo then complete an affidavit stating his name and reason for not having photo identification. This is referred to as a reasonable impediment to obtaining photo identification. The MEC will count the voter's provisional ballot unless a challenger presents credible evidence to the MEC at a provisional ballot hearing that the person provided false information about his identity or about having the listed impediment. The MEC may not judge whether the listed impediment is reasonable. Any reason preventing the voter from obtaining a photo ID is presumed valid.

Both types of provisional ballots are not counted on election night. They are placed in a Provisional Ballot Envelope on Election Day and secured in a ballot box for the MEC to determine if they should be counted before certifying the election. The name of the voter, the reason for voting a provisional ballot and the name of any challenger are recorded on the outside of the envelope. The MEC must also keep a list of voters without photo identification.