Updated: SC High Court: Dozens Cannot Appear on Ballots
More than 100 candidates in June primary races across the state could be removed from the ballot after Wednesday's S.C. Supreme Court ruling.
This story has been updated to provide language from the Supreme Court ruling and campaign comment.
The path to the S.C. Statehouse and county-wide offices just got a lot easier for dozens of candidates across South Carolina.
And for dozens of others, it just became impossible — at least in 2012 and at least as members of their own party. Read the ruling here.
The S.C. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that candidates who did not file Statement of Economic Interest forms along with their Statement of Intention of Candidacy forms by the required deadline cannot appear on the June party primary ballots.
The case brought by two Lexington County voters was designed to affect only a few races in Lexington County, but the justices said during arguments on Tuesday that it would have broad impact statewide, causing "chaos" like a class-action filing.
As a result of the ruling, the state's two major political parties now have until Friday to provide lists of legally certifiable candidates to the state Elections Commission and to the county election commissions. A majority of counties statewide have at least one candidate in House, Senate, or county-level races who failed to be properly certified, according to state election commission attorney Elizabeth Crum.
"We fully appreciate the consequences of our decision, as lives have been disrupted and political aspirations put on hold," said the court's decision Wednesday. "However, the conduct of the political parties in their failure to follow the clear and unmistakable directives of the General Assembly has brought us to this point. Sidestepping the issue now would only delay the inevitable."
Basically, under the letter of the law, candidates must file a Statement of Economic Interest form simultaneously with their Statement of Intention of Candidacy and do so by March 30 if they're running as a Democrat or Republican. Many candidates, all challengers, either never filed an SEI, filed it late, or didn't file it at the same time with their SIC form.
The state's political parties are tasked with properly certifying their candidates for office, and there had been "systemic failure of the political parties to follow the law," the justices noted.
State Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian admitted on Tuesday during oral arguments that, "Yes, we were asleep at the wheel."
Depending on how the final certified lists from both parties shake out, upwards of a hundred or more candidates could potentially be removed from the ballot, ending their bid for office as members of their respective parties. In some cases, that will mean that contested primary races will now be uncontested races that will ensure incumbency for a number of candidates statewide.
But, technically at least, all is not lost for decertified candidates removed from their party's ballots.
Those candidates who are removed from the ballot still have a shot to run in the fall general election; however, they just won't be able to run as a Democrat or Republican. Candidates could file to run as Independent candidates or wage write-in campaigns in the general election.
To run as an Independent, candidates would have to file the required forms (including SEI and SIC forms) and pay required fees by noon on July 16, as well as submit a petition with the signatures of at least five percent of the registered voters living within the area or district represented by the office.
A third option might even be for candidates to join and run as a nominee of another party certified in South Carolina, which include the Libertarian, United Citizens, Reform, Constitution, and Green parties. The deadline to file to run as one of these third party candidates is Aug. 15.
"There is a question of whether this dispute is ripe for review, as no harm has been incurred because an unqualified candidate has not been elected," the court ruling stated. "This issue is ripe for judicial determination. Absent relief, plaintiffs, as voters, face the substantial likelihood that they will be presented with a slate of candidates, of whom one or more may not be certified after the election.
"This is a matter of great public importance," the ruling added. "Integrity in elections is foundational. It is that recognition of the importance of the integrity of public elections that leads us to grant relief at this time."
One of those candidates whose race might be imperiled is GOP state Senate candidate Katrina Shealy of Lexington, who is running to unseat incumbent Sen. Jake Knotts. Shealy was one of the three candidates listed in the lawsuit as non-compliant. The campaign is still trying to figure out where it stands, said Communications Director Sheri Few.
"We're still evaluating the situation… and determining what our options are," she told Patch. "Obviously it is not an outcome that is desirable," she said, adding the campaign expected to make a formal statement Thursday.
Clay Burkett, a GOP candidate for Lexington County Coroner who was also named in the suit for non-compliance, expects to have his name removed from the ballot. Burkett told Patch he had an email from state election officials saying that he "had done everything right."
However, by filing his financial disclosure a week past the March 30 deadline, his party improperly certified him and he is technically non-compliant. Undeterred, he said he planned to file as an Independent and get on the November general election ballot.
"I'm not going away just because the Supreme Court said I can't be on the Republican Party primary ballot," he said.
"In my opinion, the Supreme Court has done an injustice to the citizens of Lexington County to where they can't make a choice now," Burket added. "My phone has been blowing up since five o'clock. Even Frank Barron, one of my opponents called me, and he said he didn't think it was right the way they did things."
Democrat Walid Hakim of Lexington, also named in the suit for noncompliance in his bid to seek the District 88 House seat of Republican Mac Toole, said his campaign would release an official statement on Thursday.
Incumbent Garry Smith, running for re-election in House District 27 in Greenville, remains safely on the ballot, but added that for challengers across the state, "It’s hard to say what will happen. There is a lot still to be determined…. I’m concerned any time a candidate’s name is taken off the ballot, it’s less choice for a voter."
In Berkeley County, Republican Party Chair Tim Callanan said the ruling would impact all four of his candidates who are running for election for the first time.
The court was unanimous in its ruling, but Chief Justice Jean Toal had recused herself in the matter and was replaced on the five-person court by retired Judge James Moore of Greenwood.