Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Election Day in March

There is a little known fact that most elections in our state are not decided by the November General Election or the June Primary Election. Most of them are decided at noon on March 30th.

That’s the deadline for candidates to officially file for office if they wish to be listed on this year’s ballot as the nominee of a major party.

By law, the General Election is held every other year on “the first Tuesday after a Monday in November”, which means the date can fall anywhere between November 2nd and November 8th. (For some reason, the framers of that schedule didn’t want the election to ever fall on Nov. 1st, so they made sure there had to be a Monday first.)

South Carolina’s June primaries are always held on the second Tuesday in June, which is a slightly less complicated schedule than the November date.

But many elected officials don’t face any election competition at all because no one steps forward to challenge them for their office. (This is what’s known in political jargon as getting a “free ride”.)

Next week, every congressman, every state senator, every state legislator, and approximately half of all the county councilmen and other county officials will be watching the clock at noon on March 30th to find out who, if anyone, will be their opponent in this election year.

By my calculations, over 1,000 federal, state, and local offices will be filled in the November General Election. For most of them, however, the election will merely be a formality, because they will have gotten a “free ride” this year.

I’m not suggesting that this is a bad thing. Frankly, a lot of these incumbents are my friends, and I believe they do a pretty good job… or at least as good as the next group would do.
As much as the public seems to gripe about politicians, the problem is just as much US (the people) as it is them (the politicians).

A huge majority of the people – I’m guessing over 99%, including me -- cannot name each of the elected officials who have been elected to serve them. (Before you get all huffy thinking you CAN name them, remind yourself that you vote for offices like Register of Mesne Conveyance, Comptroller General, Clerk of Court, Secretary of State, Probate Judge, and Auditor, as well as county council and school board!)

If you can’t name them, there’s a good chance that you don’t really know whether they’re doing a good job.

So let’s just re-elect them all. Or throw them all out. Either way, it’s about the same. We can elect an entirely new group, and we, the people, still won’t know their names or whether they’re doing a good job.

I know I’m sounding a bit cynical… but that’s only because I am.

But there’s good news!

Every two years, there are people who decide that they want to try to make a difference. And during the two week period that ends at noon on March 30th, those people call up the state or local election commission to find out where to go file the paperwork, get in their cars and drive to wherever they’re told, and officially become candidates for office. They create competition, which forces the voters pay just enough attention to make a choice.

Those people are what make the system work.

If you think you might want to be one of those people, I tip my hat to you. And here’s the phone number to the major political parties (Democratic Party – 803-799-7798; Republican Party – 803-988-8449) and the website to the State Election Commission (scvotes.org). They can tell you everything you need to know to become a candidate.

As I said, some of these incumbents are my friends and, given a choice, I’ll vote to re-elect them. But having someone step up to offer competition can’t be a bad thing.

And good luck to you!

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