County GOP Opposes Nonpartisan School Board Elections

Contact: Tom Swatzel (843) 357-1673

GEORGETOWN--The Georgetown County Republican Party came out against possible nonpartisan elections for the county school board in a letter sent Monday to county legislators that cited studies showing nonpartisan elections reduce low income voter turnout and favor affluent candidates.

Responding to discussions within the school board and legislative delegation about possible changes in the way the board is elected that may involve nonpartisan elections, county party chairman Tom Swatzel said in the letter to Democrat state Rep. Vida Miller, "The county Republican Party would be opposed to any board election plans that incorporate nonpartisan elections. Numerous national studies have shown that nonpartisan local elections tend to result in lower voter turnout, particularly among low income voters, than partisan elections, and favor affluent candidates, who have access to financial resources to fund campaigns in the absence of political party assistance and support."

Last year U.S. Department of Justice attorneys began investigating possible Voting Rights Act violations involving the current at-large method of electing Georgetown County school board members and the apparent lack of minority representation on the nine member board. Both the legislative delegation and school board have been looking at possible election districts as a means to remedy any violation.

The board is currently composed of six Republicans and three Democrats.

Swatzel also cites a 1994 Department of Justice letter that said in opposition to a legislative proposal that year to impose nonpartisan school board elections in Georgetown County, ". . . the change to nonpartisan elections constitutes an impermissible retrogression in the position of the affected minority group in the political process, a situation that has the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color."

"With the whole issue of the way the county school board is currently elected being tied, according to statements from Department of Justice attorneys, to Voting Rights Act issues, it would indeed be ironic if nonpartisan elections, which are proven to reduce voter turnout, are incorporated into a possible voting rights corrective action," Swatzel said.

In his letter, Swatzel asked the legislative delegation, who would be responsible for any legislation changing the school board election method, to "provide an ample opportunity for county citizens and both political parties to submit comments" on any proposed elections plans.