South Carolina Attorney General Opinions 1999. AGO 99-15. 49Februay 11, 2000OPINION NO. 99-15The Honorable Hugh K. Leatherman. Sr.Senator, District No. 31 205 Gressette Senate Office Building Columbia, South Carolina 29202 Dear Senator Leatherman: You referenced in your letter the fact that the South Carolina Republican Party is conducting its Presidential Preference Primary on Saturday, February 19, 2000. You note that "[t]he Republican Party has prepared ballots and taken other related steps to conduct and finance a Statewide Presidential Preference Primary under party rules." You further state that "[t]he Republican Party seeks to give voting citizens an opportunity to express their preference on the Republican Candidates running for President of the United States." Specifically, you reference the following:
[i]n 1980, the Attorney General's Office issued an opinion addressing a Republican Presidential Primary. That opinion concluded that a separate Presidential Preference Primary financed and conducted by the Republican Party was not a legally recognizable election procedure and was not subject to general state election laws. I would like to request your opinion regarding the application of general state election laws to the upcoming Presidential Preference Primary, which is being conducted and financed by a political party. Specifically, can a political party determine the location and number of voting places without regard to state established voting precincts or other state election law requirements when conducting a Presidential Preference Primary?50Law/Analysis The January 15, 1980 opinion of former Attorney General McLeod was very specific and very clear regarding the nature of presidential preference Primaries in South Carolina. Attorney General McLeod stated that, under South Carolina law, the presidential primary "is not a primary in the legal sense, but is more nearly identified as a straw vote or poll being held separate and apart from the laws of the State relating to political parties." The opinion of Mr. McLeod went on further to say that
[t]he March procedure [1980 Presidential Preference Primary] does not nominate anyone and has no binding force or effect. Under the Election Laws of this State, voters do not case ballots for presidential candidates but instead cast ballots for Presidential...
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