City of Georgetown considering switch to non-partisan elections

  • Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The City of Georgetown is one of the “elite eight.”

That is how Bill Taylor of the Municipal Association of South Carolina described Georgetown as he met with city council last week. He was referring to the fact Georgetown is one of only eight municipalities in South Carolina that holds partisan elections.

There has been a push by some current and former members of city council to move to non-partisan elections. Taylor was invited to speak to council Thursday about the issue.

He said now anyone who wants to run for a seat on council or for mayor must run under a party label or collect signatures from eligible voters and run as a petition candidate.

The partisan elections also require a party primary in June and then the winners have to run again for the November election.

Taylor said under the non-partisan election rules, a candidate can file a statement of candidacy 75 days prior to the November election.

Council would have to decide if a winner must receive a majority of the votes or if the winner is whoever receives the most votes, Taylor explained.

“It allows those not endorsed by a political party to seek office. Sometimes it allows for greater voter turnout,” Taylor said.

Councilman Brendon Barber disagreed, saying he has statistics from the College of Political Science showing the lack of party affiliations causes fewer people to vote.

He also said the absence of political labels sometimes causes voter confusion.

Barber also said he does not support the change because non-partisan elections tend to favor the affluent.

“Voting decreases in the lower socioeconomic class,” Barber said.

Councilman Rudolph Bradley also spoke out against the possible change.

“It always behooves me when I see the persons behind this. It is really hard for me to believe the sincerity behind this,” Bradley said, calling it a “political move” to promote the right wing. He said he does not believe non-partisan elections will be approved in Georgetown.

Councilman Clarence Smalls said he, like Bradley and Barber, opposes the change.

Councilman Ed Kimbrough, a supporter of the change, said “I hope people vote for me because I have the ability and willingness to serve, not because of a political party.”

Another supporter of non-partisan elections is Councilwoman Carol Jayroe.

“It opens the doors for all inclusiveness,” she said.

Taylor said in the past, such a change would have to be approved by the Justice Department but a ruling by the Supreme Court deemed that to be unconstitutional.

“You no longer have to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department,” Taylor said.

Council will continue discussing the possible change at future meetings.

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