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Ethics Commission Gives Informal Opinion on Delaying Elections

Following a new informal opinion issued by the South Carolina State Ethics Commission, cities and towns should consult with their attorneys when deciding whether to delay elections for
redistricting.

The May 2021 issue of Uptown included an article about the effect of delayed census data on municipal elections. The article noted that state law permits cities and towns to determine
the dates of their elections. The right to determine the date of elections includes the right to delay an election, which necessarily will cause at least some councilmembers to serve for a period longer than their original term.

A long series of SC Attorney General opinions have affirmed the right of municipalities to change the date of their elections. This is the case even if changing the date would lengthen the time of service of some councilmembers, provided that the change is “reasonable [and] in furtherance of a public purpose,” as seen in the Opinion of the Attorney General to Mr.
Grant Duffield, March 13, 2006.

However, on July 21, the SC State Ethics Commission released an informal opinion concluding that councilmembers have an economic interest in a vote to determine whether they will serve beyond their original terms, given that extended service would lead to additional pay. Under
this analysis, a councilmember would potentially violate the state’s Ethics Act by voting to delay an election in which the councilmember is up for reelection.

Cities and towns that are considering a delay in their upcoming elections to allow time to redistrict should therefore consult with their city or town attorney to ensure that none of their councilmembers inadvertently violates the Ethics Act.

Contact Municipal Association General Council Eric Shytle at eshytle@masc.sc or
803.933.1214 for more information.