Election Law

As a part of its local government law practice, Howell Linkous & Nettles has one of the most active election law practices in South Carolina. Aspects of the election, campaign, and political law practice include advising and assisting local governments in the conduct of municipal bond and local option tax referendums, representing local election commissions and boards of voter registration, and representing candidates in election protests and contests. The firm’s experience in handling election protests includes candidates for local office as well as State-wide offices. This practice area also involves campaign practices and the application of state ethics laws on the conduct of campaigns and elections. Attorneys in the firm appear before the South Carolina State Election Commission and the South Carolina State Ethics Commission, in addition to appearing in the courts and local election commissions, on behalf of candidates.

Our attorneys have successfully argued several of the landmark court decisions in South Carolina election law, and represented candidates in many election protests or contests. In George, et al. v. Municipal Election Commission of the City of Charleston, Sam Howell successfully argued overturning a municipal referendum election where constitutional rights to the secret ballot were violated. Novel issues of voter residency and the use of after-discovered evidence were the bases for the firm’s successful election protest to overturn a mayoral election in the landmark opinion in Dukes v. Redmond. In Douan v. Charleston County, the State Supreme Court rejected a taxpayer challenge to a municipal bond referendum where the firm represented the local election board. In addition to their familiarity with election law, the attorneys in the firm have also prevailed in election protests by using the Freedom of Information Act (sunshine laws) and the State Ethics Act as the basis for the court’s decision. As Chairman of the South Carolina State Election Commission, Sam Howell was instrumental in successfully challenging the use of impermissible election materials in a municipal bond referendum in Charleston County School District v. Charleston County Election Commission, et al.

Sam Howell’s experience in election issues extends well beyond his legal practice. He served as the Governor’s representative on the Election Law Study Committee of the South Carolina General Assembly from 1989 to 1994, where he reviewed and commented on pending legislation under consideration by the State Legislature. Mr. Howell was one of the five members of the South Carolina State Election Commission from 1992 to 2002. He served as Chairman of the State Election Commission from 1997 to 2000. In his role as a member and Chairman of the State Election Commission, Mr. Howell was responsible for the conduct of elections across the State. In addition, he heard every election protest or appeal that came before the State Election Commission during his 10-year term on the Commission. Many of the decisions rendered by the Commission during Mr. Howell’s years of service became the black-letter law when they were affirmed by the State Supreme Court. These decisions include In re Bamberg Ehrhardt Sch. Bd. Election v. Kilgus; Greene v. S.C. Election Comm’n; Orangeburg County Democratic Party v. State Election Commission; and Paschal et al. v. State Election Commission.

Howell Linkous & Nettles serves as general counsel to the local board of elections and voter registration for one of the largest counties in the State. As such, our attorneys are kept current on developments not only in election law, but also advances and issues involving election technology, voting systems, voter registration issues, and campaign practices.

The firm has regularly assisted local governments when compliance issues involved the Voting Rights Act, including the preparation of pre-clearance requests to the U.S. Justice Department under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a requirement for a bond referendum in the South prior to Shelby County v. Holder. Sam Howell has also represented local governments in challenges brought by the Justice Department or others against local governments in the South over redistricting and other voting rights, including the landmark decisions of Vander Linden, et al. v. Hodges, et al. and U.S.A. v. Charleston County Council, et al.

With extensive experience in assisting local governments with all aspects of local bond referendums and other local issue elections, our firm can prepare all the necessary resolutions and ordinances, public notices, and pre-clearance requests. Lawyers in the firm can assist local officials in formulating the ballot questions, as well as negotiating the thorny issues of campaign practices, advocacy for the questions, and defending the results if challenged. Howell Linkous & Nettles can remove much of the administrative burden from the local government staff by taking charge of printing and publishing ballot forms, public notices, and making the proper filings of the results of the referendum.