Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

Times and Democrat. August 10, 2022.

Editorial: S.C. has more than climate vs. wildfires

South Carolina and Georgia are glad to be the exceptions.

Nearly 70% of the U.S. population across parts of every state in the continental United States, except for Georgia and South Carolina, experienced at least one day of heavy- or medium-density wildfire smoke in July, according to an analysis by Direct Relief’s research and analysis team of data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Over the same period, an estimated 28.6 million people, or nearly 9% of the U.S. population, experienced one or more days of heavy smoke.

Last month alone, an estimated 1.44 million people across the U.S. experienced seven or more days of heavy-density wildfire smoke.

Most locations that have endured such conditions over the past month are in Alaska, with Fairbanks being the most populous, though areas in California, Montana and Idaho have been subject to at least seven high-density smoke days.

Though often associated with western U.S. states, several Midwest and Eastern states have also experienced at least one heavy smoke day, including vast swaths of Minnesota and Iowa as well as regions of New York and Pennsylvania.

South Carolina, despite our climate with higher humidity that helps prevent and hold down wildfires, is not immune.

In a typical year, South Carolina has 5,000 wildfires, which burn nearly 30,000 acres. South Carolina’s wildfire season usually occurs between late winter and early spring.

Importantly, the state helps prevent wildfires with its forest-management policies.

A coalition of state, federal and non-governmental land-management organizations under the umbrella of the South Carolina Prescribed Fire Council continually pushes prescribed, or controlled, burning, the skilled application of fire under planned weather and fuel conditions to achieve specific forest and land-management objectives. Controlled burning is an ancient practice, notably used by Native Americans for crop management, insect and pest control, and hunting habitat improvement, among other purposes.

The practice continues today under the direction of land managers who understand the appropriate weather conditions, fuel loads and atmospheric conditions for conducting such burns.

Prescribed fire enhances public safety by reducing or even eliminating fuel loads, thereby making wildfire on that area impossible or unlikely for some time afterward. And wildfires are usually less destructive on areas that have been prescribed burned. Wildfires often either lose intensity or go out when they reach areas that have been prescribed burned.

Darryl Jones, S.C. Forestry Commission forest protection chief, said about 500,000 acres are prescribed-burned every year in South Carolina -- most of them on private land -- but at least 1 million acres should be burned annually.

“Carefully applied prescribed fire is a safe, efficient way for land managers, including foresters, biologists and farmers to improve the health and resiliency of their properties. Reducing the amount of debris on the forest floor with prescribed fire also makes it safer and easier for firefighters to suppress wildfires,” Jones said.

While prescribed burning cannot stop all wildfires, it is the best management tool available for preventing larger and more frequent outbreaks.

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The Post and Courier. August 9, 2022.

Editorial: SC runoffs revealed another problem that needs fixing

You already know about the holiday problem with S.C. election law that cheated some voters out of their right to cast ballots in the June runoffs — and will continue to do so until the Legislature eliminates traditional runoffs or lengthens the period between primaries and runoffs.

The runoffs also revealed another holiday-related problem with state election law that needs a legislative fix. This one affects candidates instead of voters, so it’s arguably less important, but it should be even easier to fix, because it doesn’t require any policy changes.

As The Post and Courier’s Nicole Ziege reports, Mark Lazarus, the candidate for Horry County Council chairman who led the primary ballot by a wide margin, lost the runoff by 260 votes after the county election commission mistakenly mailed Democratic runoff ballots to 1,377 voters who had requested Republican ballots. The commission didn’t recognize its error and send out replacement ballots until the Friday before the June 28 runoff, too late for all but 140 voters to get them back in time to be counted. Although some who request absentee ballots are able to vote in person, either on runoff day or in early voting, some weren’t physically able to do so.

That would have been a strong basis for Mr. Lazarus’ protest to the Horry County Republican Party, asking for a do-over. But the party rejected his appeal because it was filed a day after the deadline.

Normally, that wouldn’t be worth commenting on, because deadlines are deadlines, and they need to be met. But in this case, state law requires election protests to be filed by the Monday following the election — a day that happened to fall on July 4 holiday this year. Mr. Lazarus filed his protest on the next business day, July 5.

It’s easy to see how someone could have assumed that the deadline was delayed because of the holiday. After all, the law for filing to run for office in South Carolina says that if the deadline falls on a Saturday or Sunday, it’s extended to the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday.

We don’t mean to suggest the party was wrong to reject Mr. Lazarus’ protest; the law is pretty clear, so we’re not sure it had any choice. But while S.C. Code Section 7-17-520 is clear, it’s inconsistent with the deadline all candidates have to be familiar with. And it’s difficult for us to believe that our legislators intentionally set a trap for candidates when they wrote this law. If they did, they shouldn’t have.

More likely, lawmakers simply didn’t think about the potential for the Monday after an election to fall on a holiday — or about how difficult it could be to file an appeal earlier than that, since the results of some races aren’t certified until the Saturday after the election. But like the holiday problem involving absentee ballots, now that lawmakers know about it, they need to fix it.

In this case, that simply means making the law for filing a protest consistent with the law for filing to run for office, by extending the deadline to Tuesday when Monday happens to be a holiday. That way it won’t be as easy for inexperienced candidates to fall into the trap, and perhaps more importantly, state law will no longer interfere with the opportunity the Legislature obviously intended to give to all candidates to seek an objective, fact-based appeal of elections they lost.

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