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In South Carolina, Primary Day often matters more than Election Day

The Early Vote

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For as much attention as the presidential primaries have been getting, it's easy to forget the importance of state elections here in South Carolina. State legislators enact laws that have a far more direct impact on the lives of South Carolinians.

Whereas the national presidential election will not be decided until November, our elections for state legislature are often decided at the primary level in June. That is because South Carolina legislative districts are drawn to be primarily Republican or Democrat in composition.

If a candidate for the legislature is running in a heavily Republican district, for instance, the most competition they are likely to face will be at the primary level. Once the race goes to the general election in November, the winner of the race is largely a foregone conclusion based on the relatively few numbers of Democrats in the district. The same goes for legislative districts that are drawn to be heavily Democrat. By concentrating the votes in this manner, our state legislature ensures a Republican majority each election cycle.

The race for state Senate District 42 promises to be one of the more interesting races on the primary calendar next month. In that race, former Sen. Robert Ford, who resigned from office amid scandal in 2013, will be running against his replacement, Sen. Marlon Kimpson. Because the district is drawn to be heavily Democratic — it encompasses much of Wagner Terrace, Hampton Park, the Eastside, West Ashley near Avondale, and North Charleston from the Neck up to Ashley Phosphate — the winner of the June 14 primary will almost certainly be the victor regardless of the Republican opponent in November. Sen. Kimpson has built an impressive record of accomplishments in the two-plus years since he has held office.

He was a co-sponsor of legislation to provide body cameras to police officers in the wake of the Walter Scott shooting. He has been a forceful advocate for gun background checks, even in the face of staunch Republican opposition. He has been a fierce critic of Sen. Lee Bright's recently proposed transgender bathroom bill. And he was also an articulate spokesman for the district and state in the awake of the Emanuel Nine shootings last June.

For Robert Ford's part, his most recent headlines have come from his failure to pay over $80,000 in ethical fines due to his misuse and mishandling of campaign funds while in office. Because Ford pled guilty to misdemeanors rather than felonies, however, he was not barred from seeking office again. He has told voters he wants to come back to office to "finish what he started." Towards that end he has sent a steady stream of emails to District 42 residents, touting accomplishments from his tenure for which he claims responsibility. Although Ford's fundraising in his reelection bid thus far has failed to gain a foothold, he has used other means to reach out to prospective voters and longtime supporters.

Since Ford left office, he has continued the practice of sending greeting cards to district residents on Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and other holidays. Regardless of the charges which forced him to resign, it is certain that this constant contact will be enough to endear Ford to some voters.

Kimpson has been honored as Legislator of the Year by the S.C. Social Workers Association and has donated his yearly salary from the state to select community charities and non-profits. Yet in a summer primary which typically garners less than 8 percent of eligible voters, nothing is assured, much less victory against a longtime former incumbent.

In a state where Alvin Green could somehow beat a respected former judge, state legislator, and county councilman, anything is possible. Those who care about this election and other local races should definitely make sure their voices are heard on June 14.

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