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Beaufort County officials are now grappling with how to best conduct the Republican presidential primary and whether they should accept votes at only a few locations to save money.
Under a state Supreme Court ruling last week, counties are required to hold the Jan. 21 primary, but it's still unclear how much of the expense they will be required to bear.
Beaufort County elections executive director Scott Marshall told County Council on Monday that if the primary is operated like a normal election, with all 60 polling places fully staffed, it would cost about $120,000. Under normal circumstances, a little more than half of the cost would be reimbursed, leaving the county with an estimated $50,000 tab, he said.
The S.C. Republican Party has agreed to reimburse counties for all "legitimate" expenses, but county officials have objected that it's unclear what will qualify.
One option might be to consolidate polling locations and offer ballots at as few as three or four places countywide. But that might inconvenience or confuse voters.
Marshall said the Board of Voter Registration and Elections will take up the question Wednesday.
"If our board decides on an option that clearly will be more of an expense than we're expected to be reimbursed, then it may be incumbent upon this body as to whether you will subsidize that option or not," he said.
Whether enough money is available to hold the primary is a political question, not a judicial one, wrote Chief Justice Jean Toal in the Supreme Court's majority opinion.
The four counties in the lawsuit have until Friday to ask the court to reconsider. County attorney Josh Gruber said that hasn't been ruled out, but all parties agree it is "highly unlikely" the court will reverse itself.
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Under the new bylaws, Beaufort County would have only one seat on the board; 30 would be reserved for individuals and businesses. Council previously provided about $270,000 per year to a similar organization, which Baer argued would be an outsized contribution for such a small share of control.
"If we get one seat on a 30-person board, I'd be very happy to pay two-thirtieths of the costs," he said. "But not 80 percent of the costs or 60 percent of the costs."
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.