Counties scramble, cull candidates for S.C. primary

The Associated PressJune 6, 2012 

— County-level political party officials around South Carolina scrambled Wednesday to re-examine candidate lists for the June 12 primary after the state Supreme Court urged them to comply with a previous directive about financial paperwork.

With less than a week until voting, the last-minute changes meant that disqualified candidates’ names would still appear on ballots – and officials said voters would need to rely on signs in polling places telling them which candidates are ineligible.

On Wednesday it still was unclear what impact the Supreme Court’s decision would have locally.

Johnnie Bellamy, chairman of the Horry County Republican Party, did not return telephone calls on Wednesday and Jim Jerow, chairman of the Georgetown County Republican Club, said he was traveling and did not have the information.

The commotion comes a day after the high court ruled that the Republican Party in Florence County hadn’t adhered to a May ruling requiring that only candidates who submitted financial and candidacy paperwork at the same time are eligible for the election.

Democrats in Florence County sued the local GOP, saying that the Republicans didn’t follow that edict and had just certified everyone.

Nearly 200 candidates were dropped from ballots after the court’s initial ruling – and attorneys have contended the number would have been higher, had party leaders in all counties complied. On Wednesday, the Florence County GOP said it had disqualified four more candidates in city council, county council and state House races, based on strict adherence to the court’s ruling.

The justices noted that although their Tuesday ruling only mentioned Florence County specifically, the court’s previous ruling on the paperwork issue applied to all counties.

“To the extent other county political parties have improperly certified candidates, those parties ignore the decisions of this Court at their own peril,” the court wrote.

In Oconee County, Republican Party chair Eddie Adams said he decertified all 11 of the non-incumbent candidates seeking office there this cycle. That resulted in the cancellation of next Tuesday’s GOP primary there, while the Democratic primary will go forward.

“The incumbents were the only ones that were certified correctly,” county elections official Kylie Johnson said, of the GOP candidate list. “Everyone else can file as a petition candidate.”

Two other counties – Allendale and Clarendon – had already opted not to have primaries this year because of uncontested races, according to the State Election Commission.

In Anderson County, GOP chairman Dan Harvell said five candidates in the sheriff, county council and state House races were disqualified Wednesday, a decision he said was unfortunate for both prospective officeholders and the state’s voters.

“I think that the voters are being totally disenfranchised here with this ruling,” Harvell said. “Not only do the candidates lose, but even more than that, the voters are losing.”

Also unfair, Harvell said, is a policy that allows people who currently hold public office to file financial records annually, instead of at the time they file as a candidate to seek office. That requirement, Harvell said, unfairly protects incumbents.

“The incumbents had an umbrella of protection here that the challengers did not have,” Harvell said.

Also Wednesday, the high court turned down the Florence County GOP’s request for clarity on that paperwork. On Wednesday, GOP attorney Kevin Hall asked the court to specify if current officeholders who already had financial paperwork on file must resubmit those documents if they seek a different office, but the high court declined to answer.

State Republican Party executive director Matt Moore said that the state GOP was in touch with counties around the state as they tried to finalize their candidate lists. The state GOP didn’t respond to a request from The Sun News for information about races in Horry and Georgetown counties.

“It’s a crying shame that the candidates and both political parties relied on instructions given to them by state government, and good citizens still ended being kicked off the ballots over a technicality,” Moore said.

Democrats were also affected by the turmoil. In Charleston County, state House hopeful Carol Tempel withdrew, acknowledging that she filed her financial papers electronically but didn’t also submit a paper copy.

“The Supreme Court could not have been more clear in their ruling yesterday,” Tempel said. “If candidates did not file properly, they should not be on the ballot.”

State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said he expected that more changes would come in the few days between now and the June 12 balloting. As of Tuesday, officials planned to close nearly 300 of the state’s more than 2,000 polling places on the day of the primary because candidates on ballots there now have no opposition, so voters have no choices to make.

Before Tuesday, Whitmire urged voters to check scvotes.org to see if voting in their areas will be affected.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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