Election board uproar bothers party chairman

By Greg Oliver
Courtesy The Journal

CLEMSON — Pickens County Democratic Party chairman Richard Byrd said he’s frustrated by the legislative delegation’s recent decision not to reappoint Lillian Boatwright to the Board of Voter Registration and Elections of Pickens County, adding “there’s a group of really extreme conservatives that have been after her from the get-go.”

“Lillian was our designated representative,” Byrd said. “The minority party is supposed to have one representative, but they didn’t like some of the things she had on social media. She had done nothing against the rules as prescribed by the state elections commission.”

Boatwright took to social media earlier this month to say she was not reappointed because State Sen. Rex Rice disagreed with her views. Fellow board member Bobby Rauton said he also planned to resign from the elections board in protest of the delegation’s decision.

When contacted, Rice cited concerns with Boatwright and other board members for their use of social media.


Byrd: ‘They would be furious’

While he recognized the argument that board and commission members shouldn’t use social media, Byrd pointed out there is hypocrisy when others have posted online without rebuke.

“When you’re in a one-party state, they don’t really care unless it’s the other side doing something,” Byrd said. “They would be furious if this situation were reversed and this kind of thing was going on and Democrats were interfering with the workings of a local elections commission, the board and the people who work there.”

He said the process of allowing a party delegation to appoint elections board members “is obviously very flawed.”

“I think the state elections commission ought to be the ones hiring county elections board people, and not left at the whim of state legislators who can let them go for cause or no cause,” Byrd said. “What I’d like to see, at some point, is that the process be changed completely so the legislature doesn’t have any control over it. I would like to see the elections commission be responsible for taking applications, interviewing and vetting candidates for these positions and making these hires.

“They keep screaming and crying about election integrity — why would you not want to do something like that? Why would you not want to take it out of the hands of individual legislators who certainly are not perfect people and, as we’re seeing here, are going to let partisan considerations get in the way of doing what’s best?”

Though realizing it is likely nothing will change since it would be up to the state legislature, which is controlled by a Republican majority, Byrd said he plans to take his gloves off by forcing lawmakers to publicly deal with the fallout.

“As a private citizen and as a Democrat, there needs to be at least an effort to get it to the floor of the legislature to look at this and take it out of the hands of partisan legislators,” Byrd said.

Byrd added he is looking into whether a civil challenge can be mounted.


Former Republican chair talks

Former Pickens County Republican Party chairman Phillip Bowers, who serves on the Pickens County School Board, said election officials should be free to use social media for interacting with friends and family. But Bowers expressed concern when it comes to board and election officials using it for political purposes.

“It’s important for those type of officials to maintain neutrality, and the appearance of partiality creates problems,” he said. “You just have to be careful with social media. It’s just like an email. Folks will say a lot of things in an email they won’t say in person.”

Bowers said he knows of one former elections board member who refused to vote in primary elections simply to avoid any appearance of preferring one party over another.

“It’s kind of a tricky situation — living your life in freedom while also remaining impartial,” Bowers said. “That’s tough.”

Recognizing Pickens County is a strong Republican county with an all-Republican legislative delegation, Bowers said he understands the frustrations of Democrats in the minority party.

“The first thing you know, the pendulum swings, and it’ll swing back (in the Democrats’ favor),” he said.

James Schmutz has been nominated by the delegation for appointment to the elections board, and the letter of nomination has been sent to Gov. Henry McMaster. If approved, Schmutz’s term would start April 1 and end March 31, 2026.