COLUMBIA — The South Carolina Supreme Court by a 3-2 vote refused to block the first-in-the-South presidential primary, turning back challenges by counties that the state lacked the authority to hold it.
The court heard arguments last week in a lawsuit filed by four counties against the state Election Commission and the state’s Republican and Democratic parties.
Election officials in Beaufort, Chester, Greenville and Spartanburg counties said county taxpayers would be left with more than $1 million in costs the state wouldn’t cover for the Jan. 21 contest.
Columbia lawyer Joel Collins represented the counties and said the court will allow a rehearing. He said the counties have not decided whether they’ll seek that option.
Matt Moore, the executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, said the GOP is looking forward to the primary and isn’t worried about the close decision.
Before 2008, South Carolina political parties ran and paid for their own primaries. In 2007, the Legislature approved using taxpayer money for the wide-open primaries the next year.
Counties said they were left paying for things such as overtime and maintenance and didn’t want that repeated. Collins argued the law didn’t allow the state to run primaries after 2008.
Collins said if the court sided with the counties, the state GOP could return to using paper ballots in a party-run primary.
Lawyers for the state and the GOP argued that the authority for the primary comes through the budget law legislators passed in June.
Chief Justice Jean Toal wrote the majority opinion and mostly agreed with that view. The majority refused to consider whether legislators set aside enough money for the primary.
The budget law allows the Election Commission to put up to $680,000 into running the primary, but it is up to the GOP to raise a balance of more than $800,000. They’ve been scrambling to do that with fundraisers involving presidential candidates and other events.
Moore has has said the state will reimburse counties for reasonable expenses.