Four South Carolina counties are challenging the state election commission's authority to conduct a 2012 presidential primary, a move that could halt the Jan 21 contest.
In a case filed Monday in state Supreme Court, the counties argue a 2008 primary law doesn't apply to running a 2012 primary. They also argue the state Election Commission lacks the authority to conduct the primary, enter into a contract with the state political parties to hold the contest or require counties to cover expenses for the Republican primary.
The counties said they "are on the precipice of having to expend precious public funds to conduct what is wholly a private function on behalf of a private political party."
The lawsuit names the state Election Commission and the state Republican and Democratic parties.
State GOP Executive Director Matt Moore said the primary is part of the state's law. "It's clearly written in this year's budget law that the state should be involved with the 2012 primary so any claim otherwise is wrong," Moore said. He said the primary is an important public function, not a private operation.
The litigation was filed hours after a meeting between county voting officials and the state Election Commission and caps weeks of arguments about counties getting stuck with the tab for putting on the primary.
The Supreme Court has not decided to hear the case. If it does and rule in the counties' favor, the primary could be stopped unless legislators returned to the Capitol to pass a special primary law. Deadlines are tight for the Jan. 21 contest. The state has to have names to put on the ballot by Nov. 1 and it has to have overseas absentee ballots in the mail by Dec. 7.
In the lawsuit, officials from Beaufort, Chester, Greenville and Spartanburg counties say the primary will cost more than $2 million. The state Election Commission has about $680,000 to put into the primary and is billing the Republican party to pick up the rest. The GOP is raising money for the primary through candidate filing fees and fundraisers.
Last week, the GOP told counties it would cover expenses that the state does not usually reimburse. But GOP leaders said counties weren't satisfied that all costs would be covered.