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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Open Primaries" In South Carolina

This year's municipal elections in Florence, South Carolina, provided a good example of what I discussed in my October 25 letter in The Clarion-Ledger.

South Carolina evidently gives each municipality the option of having nonpartisan elections (popularly called "open primaries" in Mississippi). Florence is one of only eight municipalities that still holds party primaries in the Palmetto State.

In the June party primaries, there was no candidate for mayor in the Republican primary. Thus the people who chose a Republican ballot could not vote for mayor; these voters included two incumbent city councilmen.

In the Democratic primary, the young challenger defeated the 13-year incumbent mayor, Frank Willis-- by one vote. Willis and his supporters contend that, if the city had nonpartisan elections, he would have been re-elected.

"There was... an ordinance passed by Florence City Council [in October] that several council members think would have saved Willis’ job had it been approved by voters via referendum before the primary.

"Council approved an ordinance that calls for a referendum to change city elections to non-partisan."

Stephen Wukela, who beat Willis in the Democratic primary, opposes the referendum and wants to stick with the party primary system.

"Supporters of the ordinance said elected city officials deal mainly with basic infrastructure needs that have nothing to do with partisan politics.

"'I think most of the people on this council see this as not about power,' Frank Willis said, 'but as about the citizens of Florence being able to vote for whoever they want to vote for.'"

Following the June party primaries, a former Democratic mayor entered the mayoral race as an independent (this, of course, would be impossible in Mississippi, since independents here have the same qualifying deadline as party candidates). The Democrat Wukela was elected on November 4.

Since South Carolina is covered by the federal Voting Rights Act, Florence must get approval for the referendum from the Department of Justice. The special election may be held sometime in the first quarter of 2009.

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