“Our democratic process should not be derailed by what amounts to a technicality.” Senator Larry Martin, R-Pickens (quoted in an editorial on 5/6/2012 in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal)
Last week, South Carolina was stunned to learn of a lawsuit that would potentially remove every challenger (both Democrat and Republican) from the primary ballot in an election occurring less than six weeks from now on June 12. Even more stunning was the verdict from the South Carolina Supreme Court. In a 5-0 decision, the Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, creating chaos across the state. In the past, the Court ruled in favor of voter access and voter choices, but this time they did not.
As the Democratic and Republican state parties, their local counterparts—myself included, as the Chairman of the Spartanburg County Republican Party—and the Election boards across the state started the process of figuring out what the ruling meant, candidates were scrambling to find out if they were affected. When the ruling first came down, the parties thought that as many as 500 candidates (from both parties) would be affected statewide. When the air cleared, fewer than 200 candidates had been removed from the ballot—still a lot of candidates!—that had filed in good faith, thinking they were in compliance. The affected candidates were all challengers.
The finger-pointing has begun and I can guarantee you it will continue, but the real culprit appears to be an antiquated law that requires candidates to file their Statement of Economic Interest (SEI)—a document that shows the source(s) of the candidate’s income—simultaneously as they file their other paperwork with the county party official. When that law was written, the SEI was only in paper form because the Internet was not a viable option. In 2010, the law was changed to say that a candidate had to file the SEI online with the Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission only takes that form online, and a candidate’s information goes up immediately once it is submitted. The remainder of that incongruent law has never been updated to reflect the new Ethics Commission’s policy.
What happens now? That is the question. Already, rumors of appeals to federal courts, candidate protests and interference of the US Department of Justice are circling. This Tuesday, Senator Larry Martin (R-Pickens) has called an emergency meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee to address the law with a resolution introduced by Senator Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson) that would allow those affected candidates another opportunity to file properly. The General Assembly does have the ability to rectify the situation, and should—whether they have the will to do it remains to be seen, but it would be much better for the Legislature to do so than other alternatives.
The main issue facing the state is the little time left between now and the primary election June 12. South Carolina is still in a state of flux over this matter. The parties did certify the candidates Friday that were not affected by the ruling to the Election Commission, but things can still change. If the Legislature does update the law to reflect the current policy, what does it mean to the State Election Commission? The point is that we just don’t know; however, what we do know is this situation is far from over.
LaDonna Ryggs, Chairman of the Spartanburg County Republican Party, is the Managing Editor of www.palladianview.com, a digital magazine for the conservative, Republican woman.