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Primary Candidates' Fates Hang in the Balance

After hearing arguments Tuesday, the state Supreme Court is now considering a lawsuit that could drastically alter political races across South Carolina.

In the next few days, the state Supreme Court could determine whether more than 100 candidates for state and county offices will be forced off ballots in the June 12 party primaries.

The high court on Tuesday heard arguments in a lawsuit with far-reaching implications for scores of candidates statewide who are challenging incumbents for their House and Senate seats, and numerous countywide offices as well. 

argues that challengers statewide and from both major parties, failed to follow state election laws in declaring their candidacies. Specifically, the case argues that three Lexington pols failed to file financial disclosure forms as required, thus nullifying their candidacies and requiring that their names be removed from next month's party primary ballots -- effectively ending their campaigns.

The candidates include Republican Katrina Shealy, hoping to unseat incumbent Sen. Jake Knotts, Occupy Columbia stalwart and Democrat Walid Hakim, hoping to unseat House member Mac Toole, and Clay Burkett, who is challenging for the Republican nomination for Lexington County Coroner.

However, the fact that scores of candidates statewide might also have failed to properly file their "Statement of Economic Interest" forms per the law, could unleash "chaos" across the entire state, noted Justice Costa Pleicones.

"You've brought in a class-action is what you've done," Pleicones told attorney Tracey Green, who is representing the two Lexington plaintiffs, Michael Anderson and Robert G. Barber.

Green argued that his clients are only interested in the Lexington races and that they weren't seeking to upend the races of candidates in other counties. But Justice Donald Beatty said if the law were to be applied to the Lexington candidates, it might likely "have to be applied across the board."

Elizabeth Crum, an attorney for the State Election Commission, said a majority of the state's 46 counties have state and county-wide races where at least one candidate failed to file or properly file their financial disclosure forms by the required deadline, and file it simultaneously with their "Statement of Intention of Candidacy" forms as the law clearly dictates.

Attorney Kevin Hall, representing the state's Republican party, questioned the court's standing in the matter, which the justices quickly brushed aside. Hall also argued that there are remedies in the law that provide for grace periods up to 30 days. He said confusion and issues with new electronic filing requirements were also a major part of the problem. 

Green said the state's Democratic and GOP party organizations, who are required to certify their candidates, simply failed in their ministerial duties and were the ones responsible for creating the chaos in the first place.

State Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian didn't disagree.

"Yes, we were asleep at the wheel," he told the justices, adding that his party would work speedily to decertify any candidates ruled to be in noncompliance with the law.

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