South Carolina Budget Crisis May Force State To Cancel Republican Primary

Nikki HaleySouth Carolina Governor Nikki Haley

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South Carolina’s key first-in-the-South GOP primary is about to lose its state funding, perhaps forcing its cancellation, as Governor Nikki Haley seeks to close an $800 million budget gap.For months Haley has warned state legislators not to include and funding for the bellwether primary in next year’s budget, and she is likely to veto lawmakers’ plans to spend $680,000 left over from last year’s midterm election on the vote.

Even if Haley allows the funding to remain, the state Republican party would have to raise the rest of the estimated $1.5 million needed for the vote — a process that presents legal and financial challenges — or else hold a caucus.

GOP chairman Chad Connelly told The State that the party believes it must contract with the South Carolina Elections Commission for paid poll workers and access to electronic voting machines, or else run afoul of federal election law.

“Can the party directly contract with the election commission? Can it pay directly whoever is providing the service, like poll managers and putting notices in the paper?” the commission’s spokesman, Chris Whitmire, told POLITICO. “It’s clear as mud,” he said.

The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office is currently examining whether any such agreement would be permitted by state election law.

The Palmetto State primary has a special place in Republican Party lore — every GOP presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan has won the endorsement of South Carolina voters.

A caucus would likely limit participation only to registered Republicans, as opposed to the current open-primary system which allows independents to vote. It would also undoubtedly attract less attention and advertising dollars from the GOP contenders, costing state businesses millions.

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