ST. GEORGE — Two of the three GOP candidates, facing decertification in a lawsuit brought by the Dorchester County Democratic Party, will make the November ballot after a Monday hearing.
But the judge has not made a ruling on the third candidate, S.C. Senate District 38 GOP nominee Sean Bennett, who defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Rose in the June 12 primary and could now face decertification because of a clerical error.
The lawsuit centers on election law, specifically whether or not non-incumbent candidates filed in accordance with two S.C. Supreme Court rulings this year that demanded candidates file a paper copy of their 2012 Statements of Economic Interest with their Statements of Intention of Candidacy.
A decision is expected before the Aug. 15 deadline for candidates to make the general election ballot.
"I am always worried in an issue that involves disenfranchisement of voters in any election but I understand that under decisions by the (S.C.) Supreme Court that that's not really under my control. I, of course, favor voters making the decisions," Judge Howard King said before adjourning the hearing.
During a hearing Monday, King narrowed the Dorchester County Democrat's broad lawsuit against the county Republican Party et al. King said because there is no evidence and no objections from any parties in the suit S.C. House District 97 GOP nominee Ed Carter and Dorchester County Council District 5 GOP nominee Carroll Duncan could be certified for the Aug. 15 deadline to make the general election.
Duncan is unopposed in November. Carter will face Democratic incumbent Rep. Patsy Knight.
"We're just ecstatic the motion was granted," Carter attorney Will Waring said. Waring, Duncan attorney Todd Kincannon and Bennett attorney Robbie Robbins all made similar motions to have their clients reinstated, since a June 29 court order decertified their campaigns.
"We look forward to the general," Waring said.
Dorchester County Democratic Chair Richard Hayes appeared unruffled by the decision to grant candidacy to the only Republican in the case facing a Democrat in the fall.
"We welcome (Carter) back in the race. Rep. Patsy Knight has won three times by wide margins," Hayes said. "This is a valid lawsuit ... There are questions and issues in the process."
Those questions and issues remain focused solely on Bennett now, according to the judge. Bennett's candidacy rests on two questions: whether or not Bennett filed his paper SEI at the same time as his SIC, and whether or not it matters that he filed his 2012 SEI on a 2011 form — an admitted clerical error.
Robbins presented testimony from county GOP election filing officer Tony Piscatella, Bennett and a coworker of Bennett, attesting to the candidate filing his paper statement of economic interest at the same time as filing as a candidate March 20.
Co-defendants Kincannon and Rose attorney Joel Collins, and plaintiff attorney Dillon Goff questioned the presentation by those witnesses, but did not cross examine Bennett or his coworker when given the opportunity.
Duncan, Rose and Piscatella remained under cross examination for the longest durations during the hearings.
The judge adjourned the hearing saying he would review the 20-plus evidence pieces submitted to court, affidavits and the testimony heard Monday to come to a decision.