Nonpartisan elections referendum circulates

  • Friday, May 30, 2014

A Georgetown businessman and city planning commissioner has taken the first step to hold a special election to decide whether Georgetown municipal elections should be nonpartisan.

Bob Sizemore has begun circulating a petition asking the Georgetown City Council to hold a referendum on the nonpartisan election issue.

He needs to collect the signatures of 879 registered voters in Georgetown to give the council the authority to hold a referendum.

“City residents have a right to say if elections should be partisan or nonpartisan,” Sizemore said.

In April, a divided Georgetown City Council defeated a measure to make city elections nonpartisan.

Two members of the council, Rudolph Bradley and Brendon Barber, labeled it an effort to suppress the black vote in Georgetown. Mayor Jack Scoville voted against the measure, saying it could drive a “wedge through our community.”

But Scoville said he would support nonpartisan elections if the issue was put to a vote of the people and was favored by a majority.

Under a recent state attorney general’s opinion, an initiative petition is required before the city council can put a referendum relating to nonpartisan elections on the ballot. Sizemore’s petition asks the council to conduct a referendum within 60 days after a successful petition drive.

The petition poses the question of whether city council candidates should run as non-partisan, at-large candidates. Currently, candidates run in Republican and Democratic primary elections, and the top vote-getters advance to the November general election.

Under the petition proposal, candidates running for council seats would be grouped together on the ballot without partisan affiliation, and those receiving a majority of the vote would be elected.

If not enough candidates received a majority to fill open council seats, a runoff election would be held within two weeks among the top vote-getters in the earlier election.

The City of Georgetown holds municipal elections every two years, with the next scheduled election in 2015.

Sizemore said Wednesday, that in order for the referendum to appear on the November ballot this year, he must submit the petition to the county election department by July 15.

Ultimately, though, it will be up to the Georgetown City Council to decide when to put the referendum on the ballot, whether as a measure on the November ballot or in a special election, Sizemore said.

Georgetown City Council members Ed Kimbrough, Peggy Wayne and Carol Jayroe last month supported the measure for nonpartisan elections, with Kimbrough saying nearly all municipalities in South Carolina have nonpartisan elections, and Wayne saying the city could save money by eliminating primary elections.

Council members Bradley and Barber, however, said the proposal was an outgrowth of efforts to suppress the black vote nationally by requiring voters to present specific types of identification at the polls.

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