Richland Co. elections director fired in 4-1 vote - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Ousted elections director alleges power struggles, political pressure and threats

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Howard Jackson speaks to the media Tuesday. Howard Jackson speaks to the media Tuesday.
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Howard Jackson says his time serving as Richland County's elections director has been marred with power struggles, political pressure, and threats.

One day after the Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration voted him out, Jackson told members of the media he just wants the truth to come out, and will take his case to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Jackson, who held the position for just under nine months, was first brought on to fix Richland County's election services in the wake of the November 2012 election.

"I knew coming here there would be challenges," said Jackson in a 53-minute news conference. "But I thought there would be a clean slate.

"Bottom line, I think it came out to a power struggle. I was asked to so some things that were unlawful. "I chose not to obey those unlawful orders. That was an easy decision to make."

Jackson says his decision to get rid of Garry Baum, the county's deputy director of elections, was met with resistance from the board. "They wanted to dictate who I hired and fired," said Jackson. "I was told to stand down. Do nothing."

Jackson says he was told removing Baum would be a "bad political move" because Baum's brother-in-law is South Carolina state Sen. Joel Lourie.

"The deputy director did not know how to do the job," said Jackson citing incidents including voting machines that were not charged.

Lourie responded to Jackson's accusations of political influencing, saying he's has no conversations with any member of the board about Baum.

"I can't control what is said, and I'm not aware of what is said at these board meetings. I can tell you I have not directly or indirectly made any contact with Mr. Jackson or board members. Any suggestion to that is false and inaccurate," said Lourie.

The process to replace Baum, says Jackson, turned ugly when one of the board members asked him what race the top candidate was. "The very first question that I got was, 'what color is he?'" said Jackson. "Because of the person's race, I was told to rescind the offer."

Jackson says the African-American candidate was a sitting county director in the state. "I thought we were fortunate to have him to apply for the position," said Jackson.

"They [the board] didn't want me to touch anybody when I got here," said Jackson. "For me to be told to stand down because of his race," said Jackson. "It was unlawful."

Instead, Lillian McBride was given the position of deputy director.

"We had five board members," said Jackson. "Two of them were protecting one deputy director and two of them were protecting the other deputy director."

Jackson claims the board told him to take responsibility for more than 1,100 absentee ballots this November that he claims were McBride's responsibility.

"I stood up here by myself and took all that responsibility," said Jackson. "I didn't shift the blame to anyone else. I wasn't going to do that again."

Jackson plans to deliver documents to SLED Wednesday outlining his allegations. "I'm meeting tomorrow with SLED," said Jackson. "I have some evidence that I need to turn over to them."

"I'll answer any questions under oath, I'll take a polygraph test," said Jackson. "I'll do whatever needs to be done. I just want the truth to come out. I challenge the board members to do the same."

When asked exactly what evidence of criminal wrongdoing he had, Jackson didn't go into great detail. "When you obstruct an election, that's criminal," said Jackson.

Jackson also says he was threatened with termination at least 10 times by board members. "It was not a good working relationship," he said.

County elections officials have still not revealed their reasoning for Jackson's dismissal.

McBride has also remained silent on this issue. When approached for comment earlier, she said she was "unavailable" because she was taking a telephone call.

We waited past closing time for McBride to become available, but that time never came.

We also sought out Garry Baum, who said he did not see Tuesday's press conference, and did not want to comment on much.

Baum did tell us he was capable of doing his job and that there were two flawless elections that happened before Jackson was elections director.

Baum did acknowledge there were aspects of his job he didn't know fully, including preparation of election machines, but that at no time were the machines not plugged in to charge.

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