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GOP Primary Clears Court Challenge

February 15, 2000

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ The South Carolina Republican primary cleared two key hurdles Monday that will permit the vote to go forward Saturday as planned.

Democrats had challenged the primary on grounds that the GOP would violate federal law by not opening all polling places, especially in predominantly black areas.

Under a consent agreement approved Monday by a three-judge federal panel, the Republican Party pledged to work to open all state-designated polling places and said it would pay state election workers to staff them, if necessary. The panel had been scheduled to hear the case.

``We asked them to open the precincts and they did and we’re real pleased,″ said Jim Fitts, a Williamsburg County activist who, along with Democratic state Rep. Todd Rutherford, had filed a complaint under the Federal Voting Rights Act.

The Justice Department also said Monday that it had cleared the primary.

``All challenges to this election are gone,″ said Steve Hamm, the Republican Party’s lawyer.

State Republican Chairman Henry McMaster said the party had about 5,600 volunteers to staff 1,752 polling places. He said about 100 of the usual places were unavailable because they would be used for other purposes Saturday and that the party was looking for other locations.

He had said Friday that 300 polling places might remain closed due to a lack of workers.

Party officials agreed to seek assistance from the State Election Commission to open all available polling locations ``including the use of state designated poll workers at polling locations″ if it couldn’t get enough volunteers.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management also said a voting rights examiner would monitor Saturday’s voting in 11 counties.

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