Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat. Nov. 17, 2021.

Editorial: Audit plan is good outline for elections

A key point about elections: Auditing the results is not about appeasing a losing candidate. The purpose is to ensure the integrity of results -- and the election process.

After the furor over 2020 election results in a number of states and the continuing belief by a sizable number of people that COVID-related changes in the voting process resulted in compromised results, re-establishing public trust in elections has never been more important.

Enter the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Elections Project’s latest report, Bipartisan Principles for Election Audits. The report was unanimously endorsed by BPC’s Task Force on Elections that is comprised of 29 Republican, Democratic and nonpartisan election officials from 20 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Recommendations in the report include:

— Audits should occur after every election and be explicitly authorized in state law. State laws must dictate how and when audits should occur. Unofficial, extralegal election reviews risk the security of election materials and do more harm than good to civic engagement and voter confidence.

— Audits should have a thorough, pre-established methodology.

— Audits should follow established security best practices and be conducted with trusted technology and tools.

— Election officials must maintain custody of ballots and other election peripherals in accordance with federal and state law and judicial standards for admissible evidence.

— Audits should be fully funded by state or local public resources. Outside funding sources for this inherently governmental function inevitably fail when it comes to increasing voter confidence.

— Audits should be transparent and open to the public for observation. Regardless of how well an audit is run, its results aren’t likely to be trusted if it occurs behind closed doors.

— Audit results should be clearly communicated to the public after their completion. To help in this effort, states should provide local election offices with the resources they need to not only conduct audits, but to engage in the increasingly communications-focused side of election administration.

— Audits should take place before results are certified. The task force recommends that states expand the canvassing and certification period to at least 14 days, allowing enough time for audits to occur before results are final.

As red, blue and purple states consider election policy and voting reform, Bipartisan Principles for Election Audits serves as a guide for how to implement transparent audits that improve voters’ faith in results. American democracy relies on a functional and trusted election ecosystem; a functional and trusted election ecosystem relies on audits.

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The (Charleston) Post and Courier. Nov. 14, 2021.

Editorial: Mr. McMaster’s nakedly political pandering. Go back to governing, governor

So this is what we have to look forward to between now and June — maybe even November.

Less than a week after his John C. Calhoun impersonation, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster is back again pandering to his political base — this time not over vaccine mandates but over what he described as “obscene and pornographic materials” in our public schools.

On Wednesday, Mr. McMaster joined the growing list of Republican officials in other states denouncing a graphic novel — essentially a book-length comic book — describing a young woman’s journey to identifying as asexual and nonbinary. The governor didn’t target the subject matter but rather the inclusion of drawings that, according to The Associated Press, depict masturbation and oral sex.

The governor took to Twitter to announce that after being contacted by Fort Mill parents who were “understandably outraged” to find “Gender Queer: A Memoir” in their child’s school library, he had written Education Superintendent Molly Spearman requesting “a comprehensive investigation and a detailed explanation of how these materials were allowed to be introduced in our State’s schools.” He also called on SLED to investigate whether the state’s obscenity laws had been violated.

Our concern isn’t that Mr. McMaster wants to make sure author Maia Kobabe’s book isn’t in school libraries. We’re not convinced that such pictures belong in school libraries — even if they are comic-book pictures. If authors want to reach children struggling with their sexuality, they should leave out the X- or even R-rated images.

Nor, to be clear, is our concern that Mr. McMaster is advocating book banning. He’s not. Removing a book from a school library does not constitute censorship. Librarians decide every day which books to include in their libraries — an exercise that involves deciding not to include most books. We might not like a librarian’s decision about what to stock or leave out, and we might not like someone else’s decision to overrule the librarian, but those are simply … decisions.

Censorship means prohibiting a book from being published, sold or possessed. And nothing that Mr. McMaster has done — or that Ms. Spearman might do or that the school superintendent in York County has already done — prohibits anyone from checking the book out of the local public library or purchasing it at their local book store or online.

Our concern is that Mr. McMaster’s actions are nakedly political. That they have nothing to do with governing or protecting anyone from anything — well, except perhaps himself from a primary opponent.

Education Department spokesman Ryan Brown tells The Post and Courier’s Libby Stanford that the book had been removed from the school library long before Mr. McMaster demanded action, and that “the district failed to properly vet the book in question for adoption.” He told the AP that superintendents across the state began reviewing their libraries “for appropriateness” the previous week, after Ms. Spearman learned about the book and contacted the superintendent of the high school in question, who already had it removed. In other words, the problem no longer existed by the time Mr. McMaster sounded the alarm bells.

Mr. McMaster called for SLED to investigate because he said the book was “likely illegal under South Carolina law” and called on Ms. Spearman to investigate because he considered it likely that there were more inappropriate books in the York County high school and in other schools throughout the state.

That first concern could have been easily allayed if he read the complete definition of “obscene” in state law. S.C. Code Section 16-15-305 prohibiting the distribution of obscenity applies to material that depicts or describes sexual conduct “in a patently offensive way” and that “taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest in sex.” Based on the many pages of the book we’ve reviewed, it’s hard to imagine that the images in question would appeal to a “prurient interest” in sex. Just the opposite, actually. Again, we don’t think the book belongs in public school libraries, but we also don’t think our governor should so casually throw around terms like obscene and pornography. He knows better.

As for Mr. McMaster’s concern that the appearance of the book in one high school library means that it could be available throughout the state, or that our school libraries are filled with pictures of children having sex: That’s sort of like finding out that one business cheated on its taxes and demanding — without evidence or even indication of a widespread problem — that all businesses in the state be audited.

We understand that Mr. McMaster wants to stave off a political challenger from the right, and we would probably prefer him to anyone who would run against him in a Republican primary. But South Carolina has actual problems that we need our governor to focus on.

He needs to understand that as the extremists in the Republican and Democratic parties pull their candidates ever further toward the fringes, the voters in the sensible center, the majority, are becoming less interested in their traditional partisan preferences and more interested in the candidate of either party who is the less extreme, the less irresponsible. He should quit trying so hard to make us forget all the things we like so much about him.

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Aiken Standard. Nov. 16, 2021.

Editorial: Next chapter for Aiken’s steeplechase promises to be exciting

A new chapter in the long and distinguished history of the Aiken Steeplechase Association began Monday afternoon.

About 50 guests gathered under a tent in a large field not far from the intersection of Richland Avenue and Rudy Mason Parkway to cut the ribbon on the new steeplechase venue. Dignitaries gave a champagne toast as Paul Sauerborn, president of the Steeplechase Association, touted the near completion of the first phase of the new venue and plans to do more than just equestrian events.

Aiken’s steeplechase story dates back to 1930 when some of the early Winter Colony residents held an event in Hitchcock Woods. More than 1,000 people gathered to watch jockeys guide their mounts over the fences.

Fast forward to the late 1960s, and a group of leaders decided to renew the steeplechase event at the property adjacent to the Aiken Training Track. Ford Conger, Charlie Bird and Gene Kneece were among the group who launched the event more than half a century ago.

They saw the Aiken Spring Steeplechase become the area’s largest one-day gathering for a sports event with around 30,000 people. They saw the addition of a Fall Steeplechase that fit nicely into the National Steeplechase Association’s calendar of events. And they saw the good that the two events did for the community as they raised thousands of dollars each year for worthy causes.

But when Ford Conger Field and the surrounding land was sold to the Aiken Horse Park Foundation, the organization’s leaders saw the writing on the wall. They knew they would one day have to move.

Fortunately, the answer was a spot about two miles from downtown Aiken. With help from the City of Aiken and financing from Security Federal Bank, the Steeplechase Association acquired a 140-acre tract off the parkway and fairly close to its previous location.

“Thank you for keeping this great event in our city,” Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon said at the ceremony.

It’s been two years since Aiken had a steeplechase event. The coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, wiping out both events. This year, the spring event was not held because of COVID-19 concerns and the fall race was called off because the turf for the new tri-oval racecourse wasn’t quite ready.

All that is in the rear-view mirror, and the Spring Steeplechase for 2022 is just a few months away. There is still plenty to be done, but all signs point to a successful return to action.

The other part of the latest chapter is that plans call for more than just equine activities to be held at the new venue. Concerts, festivals and charity fundraisers could all bring in people who might not otherwise be exposed to the steeplechase site.

“To our community where we live, pray, work and play, may our organization keep this property vibrant so that future generations will appreciate what begins here today as we cut the ribbon to our future,” Sauerborn said in closing his remarks.

Hear, hear. The latest chapter of Aiken’s steeplechase story promises to be an exciting one with a new venue paired with a longstanding tradition.

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