Wednesday, April 16, 2014
The S.C. Attorney General’s Office says a referendum is not required for the City of Georgetown to switch from partisan to nonpartisan elections.
Council will vote on making the change Thursday evening.
There has been talk about making the city’s elections nonpartisan for many years but the idea gained momentum with the recent election of Ed Kimbrough and Carol Jayroe to council. Both Republicans made promises during their campaigns they would fight for the change.
Georgetown is one of only eight municipalities in the state that conducts partisan elections.
At a meeting in February, City Attorney Elise Crosby was asked to get an opinion from the attorney general about whether a referendum would be needed before the switch could be made.
Assistant Attorney General Harrison Brant issued the opinion last week.
“It is our opinion a referendum is not required under State law to change municipal elections from partisan to nonpartisan,” he wrote in the conclusion of the lengthy opinion. He said referendums are required when there are proposed changed to the method in which council members are elected such as “whether members are elected at large, from single-member districts, or a combination of both.”
Brant said such issues are “separate and distinct from the question of whether elections are partisan or nonpartisan.”
This means nonpartisan elections can be enacted with an approving vote of council.
The draft ordinance which will be voted on Thursday states the city “recognizes nonpartisan elections are...the trend nationally.” It also states votes from the past few years have been reviewed and “no instances of expressed partisan voting on policy issues” took place,
Another reason the change is being considered is to shorten the length of the campaigns during election years. Currently, the campaign period stretches from March to November.
“The length of time required is an impediment in attracting good candidates with other demands for their time, and City Council wishes to have an open process that fosters participation by persons from all segments of the community, and the nonpartisan election method would more nearly achieve that than the existing system,” the draft ordinance states.
Not all council members are in favor of the change. During the meeting in February, Councilman Brendon Barber said statistics from the College of Political Science show the lack of party affiliations causes fewer people to vote.
Barber also said he does not support the change because nonpartisan 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 nonpartisan elections will be approved in Georgetown.
The ordinance needs two approvals from council before it becomes law.
Thursday’s meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at Georgetown City Hall.