On October 29, the Fourth Circuit heard oral arguments in Greenville County Republican Party v Way, 13-2170. Anyone can hear the 48-minute oral argument at this link.
The Greenville County Republican Party challenges the state law that requires county parties to pay for administering partisan primaries for city office within that county. The state law also requires those parties to hold an open primary. The party argues that certainly if it is required to pay for the primary, it can decide for itself who can vote in those municipal primaries.
The panel seemed eager to look for a way out of ruling on that issue. The lower court had held that the party doesn’t have standing. Section 7-15-395 says, “Any political party conducting a primary in this State is responsible for carrying out the provisions of this article by making ballots and election material available so that the persons named in 7-15-320 may be enabled to vote in primary elections. All expenses incurred by any political party in conducting elections subject to the provisions of this article shall be borne by such political party.” Another state law says that state and county governments may not pay for the expenses of partisan primaries for city office.
Notwithstanding these laws, the panel seems to believe that the Greenville County Republican Party need not pay for those expenses, because it is not a “party.” Section 7-1-20 defines “party” to be a “political party, organization or association certified as such by the State Election Commission.” Obviously once the Republican Party is recognized as a qualified party by the state, all of its county units are similarly recognized, but the panel seems to think the definition of “party” excludes the county party.
Earlier this year, the city of Greenville voted to conduct non-partisan city elections in the future, so that leaves a method open to the panel to declare the case moot. However, the attorney for the county Republican Party argued that the city could switch back to partisan elections in the near future, so the case is not moot.