Operating primaries a state responsibility

The well=worn campaign for state-run primaries was given fresh power this week when the chairmen of Greenville’s Democratic and Republican parties agreed publicly that the political parties are ill-equipped to handle the job.

Democratic Party Chairman Billy Webster and his Republican counterpart Joey Hudson say they intend to lobby the General Assembly next session to transfer the responsibility to the state. “There’s a lot of opportunity for error in a very important process,” Webster said. “We just ought not be in charge of it.”

He is absolutely rights. South Carolina is the only state in the union that forces its political parties to fund and conduct their nominating primaries, and a long trail of mismanagement, confusion, and financial problems has been the routine result. It is past time for the General Assembly to transfer the responsibility for party primaries to the State Election Commission where it belongs.

It’s not as though state leaders are ignorant of the problems that have long surrounded party-run primaries.

An April report prepared for the South Carolina Policy Council Education Foundation by two USC-Coastal Carolina professors noted that the parties are dependent on filing fees to operate the primaries and remain chronically short of money and qualified election personnel. It’s well-known that the parties often can’t round up enough volunteers to open the polling places. Split precincts promotes confusion, rules vary from place to place and party to party, and illegal voting can and does occur.

The State Election Commission is in the business of running elections, and has long supported a switch to state-run primaries. The change would ensure professionalism and impartiality, preserve the integrity of the primary process and free the parties to devote their full energies to their campaign.

Commission officials have put the cost at less than $2 per registered voter, or about $2.3 million. That amount would be offset by the filing fees the parties collect.

A bill switching the primaries to state hands has passed in the House, but no action was taken in the Senate. State senators should rectify that oversight early in the next session. Webster and Hudson are right: Political parties have no business running these elections.

It’s time the state gave the job to the professionals.