In less than a week, thousands of South Carolina voters will take part in state and local primary elections which have already seen nearly a fifth of its candidates disqualified by lawsuits. A second court decision earlier this week means even more candidates will be removed from the ballot before Tuesday’s elections, but don’t expect the lawsuits to stop there.
Palmetto Public Record is aware of multiple election lawsuits already brewing over the State Supreme Court’s decision early last month removing 183 people from the ballot — or about 19 percent of all candidates (including incumbents) for state and local office in South Carolina. But unlike the two previous lawsuits, this time contempt of court charges could be involved for candidates and local party officials who disobey the ruling.
Four Sumter County voters filied a brief in court last week arguing that both county political parties violated the May ruling by illegally certifying candidates who didn’t file a paper Statement of Economic Interest at the same time they filed their candidacy. Parties had until Wednesday to comply with the original ruling by removing any candidates who didn’t file a paper SEI, warned against defying the court “at their own peril.”
But as The Item’s Nick McCormac reports, party officials on both sides in Sumter aren’t backing down over their decision to certify candidates who filed improperly:
Sumter County Democratic Party Chairman Allen Bailey was steadfast in his belief that all 19 candidates he certified are in the clear.
“As many times (the party) has gone over it (the ruling), I can’t see where we’ve done anything wrong,” he said. “We’re moving forward. I’m not taking anybody off. We feel that everybody provided us with what the Supreme Court told us we needed.”
Shery Smith, head of the Sumter County Republican Party, deferred to the state party’s statement on the ruling. “The Supreme Court has injected itself into the political parties’ once exclusive right to choose their candidates,” said state GOP Executive Director Matt Moore. “Instead of seeing the law as the Legislature intended, the court created a ‘Frankenstein’ – a set of hypertechnical rules that defy common sense and ignore the instructions of the state’s own Ethics Commission.”
State Republicans are free to bash the court’s decision all they want. Heck, we’ve said quite a bit about it ourselves. But rule of law is still in effect, and justices made it clear that punishment awaits any party officials who disobey the ruling by failing to remove candidates who filed incorrectly — or any candidate who knowingly remains on the ballot in violation of the court.
Rather than risk a contempt of court charge, Lowcountry House candidate Carol Tempel voluntarily withdrew from the Democratic race in District 115 on Wednesday because she did not submit a paper SEI. “The Supreme Court could not have been more clear in their ruling,” Tempel said in a statement. “If candidates did not file properly, they should not be on the ballot.”
It’s not clear why Charleston County Democratic Party officials let Tempel remain on the ballot after the court’s original ruling in May, which clearly stated that any candidate who didn’t file a paper SEI should be removed. However, it is clear that many other candidates across the state — on both parties — were also wrongly included on the ballot like Tempel.
Tempel called on all candidates who filed improperly to also withdraw from the race, singling out James Island Republican Paul Thurmond, the son of late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond. Thurmond told the Free Times he did not file a paper SEI, but has not been removed from the ballot by the Charleston County GOP and does not intend to withdraw from the race.
“If you did not file properly, do not risk being held in contempt of court by stubbornly trying to remain on the ballot,” Tempel commented.
Shortly after the original court ruling, Charleston County Republican Party Chair Lin Bennett posted on Facebook that none of her candidates provided paper SEIs when they registered. While Bennett did remove two of Thurmond’s primary opponents from the ballot, Thurmond is still running — meaning Bennett actually made Thurmond’s race easier. If Thurmond stays on the ballot through Tuesday and is later found to have filed improperly, both Bennett and Thurmond would be subject to contempt of court charges.
Elections officials have said unless they can print resolve the situation in time to print corrected ballots by Tuesday (which is looking like less and less of a possibility) they’ll have to post signs outside precincts saying which candidates are ineligible. But with all the absentee ballots already submitted — in addition to the general confusion surrounding the primaries — many South Carolinians’ votes will be wasted.
Shortly after the ballot crisis began back in May, a State House insider characterized the situation to Palmetto Public Record as “a clusterf**k only South Carolina could pull off.” Nearly a month later, it looks like things are going to keep clustering for quite a while.