South Carolina editorial roundup: Friday, July 23, 2021


The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat

July 19

Attacking laws on voting is about power

The debate about voting and voting laws in the United States is truly more about partisan politics than objective analysis. A common refrain is that every American should have the right to vote and not face obstacles to casting a ballot. But the fact is that elections are about winning and losing - and power - and every party, every candidate truly only wants supporters, not opponents, casting ballots.

Democrats claim Republican leaders in red states are systematically making it harder for people to vote, particularly Blacks and other minorities that traditionally favor Democrats. They are seeking national standards that would effectively take away each state's legal right to run its own elections.

More accurately, Republican lawmakers in states such as Georgia, which has faced the most criticism for its voting law revisions, are making changes in large part because of so many practices that were implemented in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic: no-excuse absentee voting, mail-in voting, drop boxes.

Georgia is being used as the poster child for a campaign aimed at painting Republicans as vote suppressors. A closer look reveals something quite different - and makes us wonder why blue states to include President Joe Biden's Delaware are not subject to criticism for their rules and laws that are less liberal than Georgia's.

The conservative Washington Examiner states: "From voter ID requirements to ballot drop boxes, and early voting schedules to absentee ballot access, there is little new or unique in Georgia's rules. In fact, many of the measures critics are attacking have long been in place in blue states, including Biden's home state of Delaware."

The newspaper reports the following about Georgia's election laws:

- The Georgia law actually adds time for early in-person voting. Georgia expanded the number of days to 17. Compare that to liberal Massachusetts with only 11 days of early voting. And Biden's home state of Delaware has no in-person early voting as yet.

- Many states, including Georgia, expanded voting by mail ahead of the 2020 election in order to accommodate public health concerns about the pandemic. The result was a lot of confusion and delays.

The new Georgia law shortens the window of time in which voters can request their mail-in ballots; that window will now close two Fridays before Election Day, which supporters say will give voters more time to receive and then mail back their ballots without missing the deadline.

The Georgia law also left intact the state's no-excuse absentee voting rules, meaning anyone, regardless of their ability to vote in person, can request a mail-in ballot.

Delaware does not offer no-excuse absentee voting.

- Voting rights advocates often claim that ID requirements disenfranchise voters of color, and many of them have railed against the Georgia law for its voter ID provisions.

But the Georgia reforms simply extended existing ID requirements - voters must show ID to vote in person in Georgia - to voting by mail.

Thirty-six states request at least some form of documentation in order to vote, including Delaware.

- Critics of the Georgia law have also misleadingly claimed that it takes ballot drop boxes away from voters and therefore eliminates opportunities to vote.

But the Peach State did not allow the use of any drop boxes prior to 2020, when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp authorized them on an emergency basis due to the pandemic. For the first time, the Georgia Legislature voted to authorize drop boxes on a permanent basis.

- A headline-grabbing provision in the Georgia law was a ban on political or voting rights groups distributing food and water to voters within 150 feet of a polling location. The practice, which critics call "line warming," is now a misdemeanor under the new rules.

Supporters said it closed a loophole in existing laws that prohibited politically affiliated organizations from trying to sway voters as they waited outside their polling places to cast their ballots. Nonpartisan election workers can still set up self-service stations where thirsty voters can help themselves to water as they stand in line.

Other states, including New York, have bans on campaigns or political groups enticing voters with snacks at the polls.

So the next time neighboring Georgia's election law is singled out as some kind of return to the Jim Crow era, try a comparison with other states about which not a word is being uttered about voting regulations and practices.

The (Charleston) Post and Courier

July 19

Firing S.C. State's president unlikely to help, could damage struggling school

James Clark started his job as S.C. State University president in 2016 with two strikes against him.

Mr. Clark was a highly regarded business executive who had spent the previous year helping salvage the historically Black university's accreditation and finances. But he wasn't an academic; in fact, he didn't even have the doctorate that faculty tend to believe should be a minimal requirement to run a university.

And his appointment was the ultimate insider job by an outsider board: He was one of just three Black members of the majority-white board of trustees - a temporary board hand-picked by selected state leaders the previous year after the Legislature booted the regular board - that appointed him out of the blue without even bothering to go through the motions of a presidential search.

Although the school continued to make progress recovering from its financial and academic woes after he took the helm, and he was supported by legislators Black and white, including those who represented the Orangeburg community, he never got a honeymoon.

Mr. Clark ruffled feathers in his first interview, when he rejected the popular idea that the school's problems were caused by inadequate state funding and called for a change of culture on campus. Within his first year, he generated pushback by naming Gov. Henry McMaster the spring commencement speaker - even though cultivating friends at the Statehouse is crucial to the success of any state university.

Within three years, alumni were calling for his head. The alumni association officially called for his replacement last year. The faculty added their voices to that call in March. As one academic reminded us last week, people who aren't happy with a president can always find allies on a board of trustees. And earlier this month, the board of trustees that was appointed in 2018 to replace the temporary board that hired him voted 10-3 to fire him.

The Post and Courier's Seanna Adcox reported Sunday that the combination of outsider status, controversial hiring and sudden departure recalled for many the fate of former University of South Carolina President Bob Caslen.

As such, it's a reminder of how important it is for college trustees to conduct their presidential searches by the book, particularly if they're going to select a president who hasn't spent his career - or even a large chunk of it - as an academic.

Of course, Mr. Caslen's own missteps contributed to his departure. By contrast, Mr. Clark … well, we can't say for sure. The board fired him for cause, which his contract defined as including negligence, malfeasance or a failure to meet performance goals, according to Columbia's State newspaper, which also reported that the board has refused to say what the specific cause was.

The faculty and the alumni complained that enrollment had continued to fall - after rising briefly - and said he wasn't equipped to fix the problem.

If that's why the board fired him, it needs to say so - although we can understand why trustees wouldn't want to admit they fired a president because enrollment dropped during a pandemic, when it was dropping at many colleges.

If the board fired him for some other reason, then it needs to tell us that.

Its refusal to do so suggests that it didn't have a good reason. It suggests that the reason was, as some of Mr. Clark's Republican and Democratic supporters in the Legislature have suggested, simply that the faculty wouldn't tolerate a non-academic president or the alumni wouldn't tolerate a president without prior connections to S.C. State or that trustees want to micromanage the university. It also suggests that the Legislature needs to consider that evidence that the trustees are unfit to serve in public positions - as it should do with other part-time boards that have fired directors without explanation.

The other difference between Mr. Caslen's departure and Mr. Clark's is that the former came at a time when USC was arguably stronger than it had been in years, thanks to his leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic. S.C. State is certainly in a stronger position than it was when Mr. Clark arrived, but its financial - and thus academic - position remains tenuous, and there's good reason to worry that the departure of yet another president will make things worse.

We don't mean to imply that Mr. Clark did nothing wrong, or that he was the best person for the job. We simply don't know. What we do know is that there is nothing inherently wrong with bringing in an outsider to run a university - whether that's someone outside of academia or simply outside the insular community of that university; that is in fact often the best course, particularly at a university that needs a course correction.

We also know that the board of trustees, the faculty, staff and alumni all need to recognize that a revolving door of presidents undermines a university's credibility with the public, from potential students to potential donors. And they need to work together to put an end to this problem.

(Columbia) The State

July 20

Can COVID derail football season? Not if Gamecocks lead way with vaccinations

University of South Carolina Football Coach Shane Beamer isn't looking back.

Beamer, who took on the role of head coach in December 2020, knows that last season, played in the midst of a global pandemic, had more downs than ups.

The Gamecocks ended the 10-game, conference-only schedule with a 2-8 record and missed a chance to play in the Gasparilla Bowl against UAB thanks to a number of positive COVID-19 tests.

"There's not a lot of expectations for South Carolina football this fall," Beamer acknowledged during this week's SEC Media Days held in Hoover, Alabama.

"I get it," Beamer said of the low expectations, adding he isn't concerned with outside perceptions. "I like the team that we have."

But Beamer did highlight one of the ongoing challenges facing the Gamecocks and all athletic programs right now - the looming presence of COVID-19 and chances the virus will once again impact the team and its fans.

Last year, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey managed to put together a 10-game season in which SEC teams only played each other.

During media days, Sankey said the 2020 season was made possible thanks to a concerted effort by the teams and medical staff, which administered some 350,000 COVID tests.

But he also expressed concern about what's to come.

Positive COVID tests have shut some Americans out of the Tokyo Olympics and continue to wreak havoc on everything from Major League Baseball to the College World Series.

"Right now, 43 percent of our football teams, that's 6 of 14, have reached the 80 percent threshold in roster vaccination," Sankey said. "That number needs to grow and grow rapidly."

Sankey even raised the possibility of games being forfeited if teams aren't healthy enough to play, an unwelcome prospect for the players, the fans and the league.

For his part, Beamer said his team is "rapidly approaching" the 80% vaccination threshold Sankey mentioned and that the offseason has been spent educating the players and staff.

Experts from the conference and in-house doctors at the university have spoken with the team about the vaccines, and meetings have even been held with players' parents.

Just this past week U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a warning about the danger of COVID-19 misinformation, a warning endorsed by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"Health misinformation is an urgent threat to public health. It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, and undermine public health efforts, including our ongoing work to end the COVID-19 pandemic," Murthy wrote.

Beamer is looking to counter the spread of misinformation in the locker room with the help of experts.

"We want to educate them," Beamer said. "I think a lot of our guys have heard different false information, misconceptions about the vaccine and we want those guys to be able to ask questions freely with the doctors that we've provided for them."

Here's hoping Beamer's education efforts are successful and the Gamecocks and the rest of the SEC can pull off whatever a normal season looks like in these unusual times.

As the song says, let the Fighting Gamecocks lead the way.