The Best & Worst to Come: A Review of Elections Legislation for 2009-2010

As we review the best and worst elections legislation of 2009, it’s also time to begin to consider what ideas are likely to resurface during the 2010 session.

Elections serve a number of purposes in a free democracy. To begin with, they keep incumbents in check and provide an opportunity for voters to determine which politicians should be voted out. But elections are also an important venue for political speech and thus campaign contributions should enjoy First Amendment free speech protections. Likewise, the government should not force taxpayers to pay for political speech they do not agree with. Above all, elections should be transparent and focused on empowering voters to make informed choices.

An important note about the 2010 elections, in particular: According to some estimates, South Carolina may be in line to receive a 7th U.S. congressional district – thanks to the 2010 census. If South Carolina does gain another member of Congress, the state legislature will be tasked with redrawing the districts. No doubt, this will be a highly politicized process. But why not take the politics out of it and adopt a method that removes intentional bias, using objective standards that apply to the drawing of each district? Currently, South Carolina’s districts are highly gerrymandered.

Best Ideas for 2010

1)     Lifting campaign contribution limits: Individual giving to campaigns is a form of free speech and thus should not be restricted. Campaign contribution limits favor incumbents and discourage potential candidates from running. H 3093 would remove the current limit of $3,500. Another bill, H 3090, would have made the current limits even more restrictive.

2)     Requiring photo ID to vote: Current South Carolina law requires voters to provide either a photo ID or a voter registration card that does not include a photo. Requiring a photo ID would reduce fraud. Despite similar laws in at least 24 other states, S 123 did not make it out of committee.

3)     Increasing campaign transparency: Statewide campaigns are required to electronically file campaign disclosure reports. H 3066 would extend this requirement to all county, school board and municipal elections.

Worst Ideas for 2010

1)     Using tax dollars to fund campaigns: Experts have shown that public financing of campaigns does not increase competition in elections. Typically, such programs are little more than “welfare for politicians.” S 438 – which never made it out of committee – would have allowed candidates to receive public funding for campaigns. Such funding is the flipside of campaign contribution limits in that they force taxpayers to subsidize speech (say from a candidate who might be a Klansman or a socialist) they may not agree with.

2)     Nonpartisan elections: Transparency is a vital part of politics. And legislation (S 127) that conceals party ID decreases the amount of information citizens possess about candidates.

To read more about elections legislation, click here.

Nothing in the foregoing should be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder passage of any legislation.

Copyright 2009. South Carolina Policy Council Education Foundation, 1323 Pendleton Street, Columbia, South Carolina 29201.


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