Ready to cast your vote but feeling lost in the maze of local government? We’ve got you covered. In this episode, we break down the essentials of Greenville County’s upcoming municipal elections. From the unique forms of city government to the candidates vying for your vote, we’re here to make sure you’re not just a voter, but an informed one.
We also dive into the nitty-gritty of voting logistics. Whether you’re a seasoned voter or a first-timer, we’ll guide you through registration deadlines, early voting options, and even how to cast an absentee ballot. Don’t miss out on shaping your community – listen now and be election-ready!
Katy Smith: If you have given one moment’s attention to the news or Twitter, you know, and might already be sick of the fact that our country will have an election in November 2024, but we have local elections in the cities within Greenville County this November. In fact, polls open on October 24.
I’m Katy Smith with Greater Good Greenville, and we want all of you who live in Travelers Rest, Greer, the city of Greenville, Mauldin, Simpsonville and Fountain Inn to vote and to be an informed voter. We’re featuring interviews with city council and mayoral candidates in contested races over the next weeks until the election.
But to prepare you today, our producer Nathaniel DeSantis and I will give you the basics on municipal elections to get you ready to vote. In fact, your first deadline, which is to register to vote in person, is October 6th, 2023.
Nathaniel DeSantis: So we are getting you ready to air a couple episodes on interviews with city council candidates. And in preparation for that, we wanted to kind of talk about municipal governments and local elections. So, Katy, first question sounds very simple on paper, but what is a city?
Katy Smith: It sounds like a ridiculously simple question, right? But many people think about a city as a place, and we do have lots of places here in Greenville County: Moonville, Taylors, Five Forks, Berea, to name a few. But we’re talking about cities as incorporated governments, which are political subdivisions of the state, and that have an elected city council. We have six cities in Greenville – from North to South they are Travelers Rest, Greer, Greenville, Mauldin, Simpsonville, and Fountain Inn.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that our state constitution was straightened out to make consistent the forms of city government in our state and to give more control to local government. The most impactful change to the constitution was in the Local Government Act of 1975, also known as the Home Rule Act, and we really should do an episode on just this topic. Home Rule impacted county governments more than city governments, but for cities, the General Assembly created the provisions of how they would be incorporated and what form their governments would take. So at that time, each place that wanted to be a city – including all that were already incorporated cities – was to choose one of three forms of government based on whatever most looked like, what they were already doing when that law went into effect.
And the choices available to them were the mayor council form, the council manager form, or council, the council form. And so what each of those can do in terms of passing laws and legislating is the same for each. But the difference is really around who is responsible for the executive and administrative duties.
Nathaniel DeSantis: Okay, so to reiterate, we have the mayor council, the council manager, and the council forms of government that cities could adopt.
Katy Smith: Yes.
Nathaniel DeSantis: So two part question: First, what’s the difference between the three and the second part, which forms did the cities in Greenville County adopt?
Katy Smith: Yeah, and actually I’ll answer the second part first so that you can listen to what I’m saying based on where you live or what you’re curious about.
And so in Greenville County, all of the cities are a council form of government, except for Greenville downtown Greenville is the council manager form of government. So in the council form, which is most of the cities, in Greenville County, the city council has five, seven or nine members plus a mayor, and that mayor presides over meetings. Kind of by tradition they vote as a member of council. They perform ceremonial duties when needed and the like.
If the council wants to, it can ask the mayor to also perform administrative duties to kind of like run the day to day of that city, but it’s not an automatic part of the job, otherwise they’re just like another member of council. The council itself prepares the budget for the cities. It establishes departments for the city and figures out how those departments will be run. It appoints a clerk, attorney and judge.
The council may decide to hire an administrator to assist them in all those day to day operations of the city and the departments. So in Greenville County, all of our cities have named a city administrator. And if you’re interested, Greer has Andy Merriman as their city administrator. Travelers Rest has Eric Vinson, Simpsonville has Diana Grassley, Mauldin has Seth Duncan, and Fountain Inn has Shawn Bell as their city administrators.
In fact, you can listen to an episode that we did with Andy Merriman and one of the council members in Greer, Mark Hopper on a previous episode of Simple Civics, which we can put in the show notes. So in the council manager form of government, which is what the city of Greenville has, the council has an even number of members, four, six or eight members, plus the mayor.
And just like in the previous form, the mayor presides over meetings, they call special meetings, they otherwise act and vote just like a member of council, and they have no authority or responsibility different from the rest of the council.
But the difference in the council form, which again is the city of Greenville, is that the council has the policy and legislative powers but not the administrative. They hire a city manager to run the day to day operations of the city, and that person decides how the departments will work and who should work there, what should be in the budget that they put before the city council to approve.
We just got a new city manager in the city of Greenville and that is Shannon Lavrin who was an internal hire. So each of our cities does have a mayor that is elected at large, meaning by all the voters in the city and who serve for four years, but each of the cities handle who’s on council and how you vote for them a little bit differently. And everyone has seats up for election this year, but each is different.
Nathaniel DeSantis: Can you explain how they are different and what can voters expect?
Katy Smith: So there’s a couple different ways. The different cities within Greenville County arrange the seats for which people can run and the ways people vote for them. In some there are at large members that everyone gets the chance to vote for. In others, there are geographically restricted seats on council and some have both.
So in Greenville, we have both two at large council members that everybody votes for and four district representatives that are restricted by kind of neighborhoods in the city. So when you go to vote, you’re going to get to vote this year for both an at large member as well as whichever area you live in. If your seat is up, we’re going to come back to that. Greer, Fountain, Inn and Simpsonville all have geographic districts only. So if you vote, you get to vote for a mayor if your mayor is up in that particular year, as well as geographically whichever area you live in.
Mauldin and Travelers Rest do it a little bit differently. In Mauldien, there are six city council seats, but they have no correspondence to geography. Everyone gets to vote for any of the seats. They’re all at large. But the funny thing is, as a candidate, you are deciding which seat you are running for.
To me, it’s a little bit like musical chairs. Like I’m going to go in and say, okay, I’m going to run for seat three, which really has no connection to part of the city, and I’ll just find out who else is running for seat three or seat four or seat one.
So I suppose there’s a situation in which everyone who wants to run for office could pick two because that’s their lucky number, and have everyone running for seat two. I’m sure there’s more to it that I don’t yet understand, but that’s how Mauldin does it.
Travelers Rest has eight council members and they are all at large seats. But the way someone wins the place on council is in ranked order voting. So when you go into vote, you’re going to vote for up to 4 people, or 4 people if there are 5, 6, 7, 8, 20 running, the top four people that year are the four that get to be on for that council term.
So all of these kind of alternate so the whole council isn’t turning over at once. They split the council in half, whatever the number is for each year. So one thing I do want to observe about the way these council seats work is that when you have at large seats, the pro of that is that people are to be working with the whole city’s interests in mind, that they’re not going to focus only on what’s going on on this one neighborhood to the detriment or ignoring of other neighborhoods. So that’s the benefit of at large.
But you could end up, if your whole council is at large with most of the council members happening to come from just one area which might make those other people feel unrepresented. If you have only geographically restricted areas, then the benefit is your council is representative of the whole city, that all different parts of the city get a seat and a say. But it could mean that people act in a little bit of an isolationist way and not operate with the city’s whole best interests in mind.
You’ve heard allegations in the past probably on this very podcast, where people are concerned about Greenville County Council being that way, that the county has twelve single member district seats. And if council ends up having a lot of people who are very focused on a particular district, sometimes people worry that it’s hard to get things done for the benefit of the whole body, the whole area that they represent. And so Greenville tries to, I suppose, accomplish that Greenville City by having two at large and then four district areas. So there’s pros and cons of all I’m sure.
Nathaniel DeSantis: So if I live in Greenville County, what do I do this November when it comes to voting?
Katy Smith: So your steps for November actually start right now. So right now people need to go to SCVotes.gov. SCVotes.gov. And there’s going to be a little tab. This is the South Carolina Election Commission and there’s a tab at the top that says voters. And you’re going to go there and click, check your voter registration. And first of all you’re going to make sure you are registered and that everything is right. And you might think I’ve lived here for ten years, I know that it’s right. Please just do it anyway. Go check it out.
So enter your information, make sure everything’s cool. If everything’s cool, then you’re going to go and confirm who’s coming up for you to vote for. On SCVotes.org, you’ll click again on the voters tab, and about halfway down your list of options, you’ll click “get my sample ballot.” And you’ll enter basic information about yourself and if you live in a city, your options for this fall will come up.
But no matter if you live in a city or in an unincorporated area of the county, it’s important for you to know who represents you. So go in the show notes and there’s a link to how to look up your elected officials. It’s through Greenville County. You’re going to put in there your street address and it will pop up all the people who represent you. And there you see the seats that represent you, your school board member seat, your house member in Congress. And it will also tell you whoever your city council person is.
And that way you can see, do I live in a city and is there a council member who represents me? And if you do, then you have the opportunity to go vote this fall. And so go to whatever city you live in polling places come November. Or you can vote early the two weeks before the election starts, which is starting October 24, you can go to County Square and vote early.
Now if you know you’re not going to be around that particular time. You’re out of town, you’re in the military, you’re in school, whatever. You can put in an absentee ballot application request. You can go down to County Square right now and make the request.
If you want, you can submit it by mail, or you can just call them on the phone at 864-467-7264 and let them know that you need them to send you a ballot, and you’ll just tell them the reason you need a ballot and they’ll send it to you and you can cast it in advance.
So there’s lots of ways to vote, and it’s been made so much easier, since we do have two weeks of early voting. I just want to say again how important it is because cities have such an impact on folks lives. And if you live in a city, you have the responsibility to get out there and vote and have a say in what happens.
Now, if you don’t live in a city, there’s still something you can do, and that is encourage people you know, who do live in cities to go vote. If you’re an employer, tell your staff to take some time to go cast a ballot.
If you have friends, family members, people your kids go to school with who do live in the city, please help spread the word, because really the word gets most spread by candidates, and candidates have limited budgets. So if you can help spread the word to get the vote out, that would be really important.
Nathaniel DeSantis: Well, Katy, that was very insightful and very informative on all the different ways that it works in Greenville and all the cities that we have here. And I look forward to hearing all the candidates on the upcoming interviews that we’ll be doing.
Katy Smith: I am looking forward to meeting them all, for sure. And we’ll put tons of links on both the simple civics webpage and on our main webpage of greatergoodgreenville.org. We have a simple civics hub that keeps you posted on what’s happening and follow our social media too, because we put a lot out there on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and the like.
So we’ll look forward to keeping everybody up to date as the selection season proceeds!
Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.
Image via SeventyFour on Canva.