By Jeffrey Sewell
When, and if, voters go to the polls Tuesday to vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries, they still may be voting for ineligible candidates.
According to information we have been gathering over the past 24 hours, the adherence to the requirement in state law for non-exempt candidates to file a Statement of Economic Interest “at the same time and with the same person” as they file their Statement of Intention of Candidacy, cannot be guaranteed even at this time.
In two separate rulings, the S.C. Supreme Court has said both documents had to be filed in accordance with state law section 8-13-1356(B) and it was the responsibility of the parties to verify that had been done.
In a May 2, 2012 ruling, the Court directed the parties to verify their records and certify candidates to the S.C. Election Commission by May 4, 2012.
Since that date, more candidates have been decertified and more may be subject to decertification if challenged.
What has become clear over the past 24 hours is that most county Republican parties do not have on file copies of non-exempt candidates SEI and SIC filings and did not provide copies of these filings to the state Republican Party.
Therefore, if challenged in court to produce documents that non-exempt candidates were certified for the ballot according to state law, it can’t be done in most cases.
The below statements from Lexington County Republican Party officials are typical of what we have heard statewide.
“As chair of the Lexington County Republican Party filing, while I did not personally sign everyone in, I was present,” said Mickey Lindler. “My review of the candidate filings confirms, per the S.C. Supreme Court ruling, that nobody is qualified (Lexington County non-exempt candidates)”.
Lexington County Party Chairman Steve Isom confirmed Lindler’s review. Lindler said under the Supreme Court findings, no non-exempt candidate in Lexington County is qualified to be placed on the primary ballot.
Pickens County party chairman Phillip Bowers called for Gov. Nikki Haley to convene the General Assembly in special session to pass legislation to stop Tuesday’s primary elections.
This controversy should not have developed to this point. It should have been stopped after the May 2nd Court ruling. It could have been avoided altogether if the state party had provided simple directions to the county parties on what was needed to certify candidates in compliance with state law.
Instead, after the May 2nd Court ruling, the S.C. Republican Party tried to find ways around the ruling to keep non-exempt candidates on the ballot. This included the development of convoluted logic to define “public official”, as referred to in section 8-13-1356(A) of state law, in such a way as to make non-incumbent challengers exempt from state law requirements and the court ruling.
This decision failed horribly when the Florence County Republican Party used the logic developed at the state level to certify non-incumbents. That logic was challenged by the Florence County Democratic Party before the Supreme Court June 4, 2012. The Florence County Republican Party lost the court hearing and the candidates had to be decertified by order of the justices.
So much for using lawyers to develop arguments to get around state law and Court decisions! One justice talked about sanctioning the lawyers who developed the theory. Not a bad idea!
In Horry County, two candidates, Dennis DiSabato and Blake Hewitt, were removed from the ballot on Thursday June 7, 2012. What makes this action so egregious is that the certification of both was reconfirmed in mid-May, after challenges to their respective certifications were heard and dismissed by the state Republican Party Executive Committee.
What changed with their paperwork in the intervening three weeks after the committee hearing? Nothing!!
We also expected the decertification of three more Horry County candidates, Greg Hembree, Greg Duckworth and Rod Smith. All three are incumbents in one office, but running for a different office on the ballot.
After the Florence County Republican Party got its butt kicked by the Supreme Court, it decided to treat incumbents running for a new office as non-exempt. We were told the state party was planning to do the same statewide, which would have decertified Hembree, Smith and Duckworth.
However, by Friday afternoon, after consultation with even more attorneys, the state party reversed course and made the decision to leave Hembree, Smith and Duckworth on the ballot as well as candidates in the same circumstances throughout the state.
They were eligible until the Supreme Court ruling earlier this week, then they weren’t, now they are again. This has been the problem all along. Not only has the state party not provided direction to county parties, it has not had direction itself.
Is it the job of the party to get as many candidates on the ballot by any means possible or is it their job to certify candidates according to the law? Obviously it does not know at this point!!