Paying for primaries

With South Carolina's 2008 presidential primaries in the spotlight, it is appropriate that the state pay to run the two contests.

The General Assembly had approved a plan in which South Carolina taxpayers would pay the $2.2 million to run the primaries with the state Election Commission in charge. Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed the bill, saying government money should not be used for political activities by the respective parties, but legislators easily overrode the veto Tuesday.

South Carolina was the only state in the nation where political parties were expecting to pay for their own primaries. But the prospect of South Carolina holding the first Southern primary contests early next year no doubt helped prompt lawmakers to opt for state funding.

That should come as a relief to party officials who perennially find it hard to come up with enough money to run their primaries. Party leaders have been criticized and even sued for not opening every precinct in the state, thus disfranchising voters, especially in low-population precincts and those where one party dominates.

Under the new law, the Election Commission will use paid workers and electronic voting machines for the Democratic and Republican primaries. That should go a long way toward ensuring that every voter has a chance to cast a ballot and the results are fairly tabulated.

While we don't buy Sanford's argument that the state should not be involved in running primaries, lawmakers should have heeded one of his suggestions. In his veto letter, Sanford said he would support the state paying for the primaries if both parties had their votes on the same day.

That makes good sense, and we wonder why the parties object to that proposal. Perhaps both relish the idea of having their own day in the spotlight.

Many states, however, schedule Democratic and Republican primaries on the same day because it is more economical to do so. Fewer poll workers and ballot machines are required, and polling locations are tied up for only one day instead of two.

But South Carolina Democrats are bound by the date set by the Democratic National Committee and Republicans have vowed to maintain their status as the GOP's first contest in the South. While Republicans has scheduled a primary for Feb. 2, they may move it back because Florida changed its primary to Jan. 29.

Whatever the final dates may be, we welcome the oversight and funding by the state. We wouldn't want the parties to make a hash of the primaries while the whole world is watching.


State-funded party primaries will help ensure that the system runs smoothly.

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