179 Candidates Thrown Off Ballot for Minor Technicality

Lauren Hale comments on an election technicality in South Carolina that greatly favors incumbents and may even violate voters’ and candidates civil rights.

de·moc·ra·cy

[dih-mok-ruh-see]

noun, plural de·moc·ra·cies.

1. government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

Above is the definition of democracy as found at dictionary.com. You’ll note it says nothing about courts choosing candidates for the people. Yet in South Carolina last week, that’s exactly what happened.

This past Wednesday, a decision handed down by the Supreme Court in South Carolina resulted in several candidates across the state being thrown off their respective ballots due to a deviance between state law and guidelines set forth by the South Carolina Ethics Commission. This deviation lies in how candidates were to file their Statement of Economic Interest or SEI.

According to current state law, candidates are to file their SEI at the same time they file for their candidacy. However, the Ethics Commission encourages electronic filing. The nuance of how to prove online filing at the same time of filing for candidacy was not fully explained. Many candidates printed a receipt from filing online to take with their candidacy paperwork but many of these documents were either not accepted or even discarded after the fact.

To complicate matters even further, there is no state-wide standard regarding where to file candidacy. Some counties are large enough for an Electoral board while in others, candidates file with the party for which they wish to run.

Also at issue is the deadline given to candidates for filing their SEI. According to a memo sent by the Senate Ethics Committee to “Candidates, Former Members, and Current Members of the South Carolina Senate,” the deadline for filing this statement was April 10, 2012. However, according to other documentation, the final deadline for challenging (i.e., non-incumbent) candidates was March 30, 2012.

The Supreme Court decision is the result of a lawsuit brought by a private citizen.

The fallout has been absolutely chaotic. Hundreds of candidates are no longer listed on the re-certified candidate list for either party. A random check of 10 candidates listed as filing SEI’s at the South Carolina Ethics Commission against the re-certified list for both the Democrat and Republican parties in South Carolina netted a total of three candidates still standing. All three are incumbents, two Democrat, one Republican. Re-certification was performed by each party, with an email going out to ask candidates if they filed via paper or electronically.

A total of 179 candidates have been removed from the ballot according to an article at the Independent Mail in Anderson, South Carolina. Disappointment and confusion is felt on both sides of the aisle as the result. Statewide, nearly 500 candidates stood in danger of removal but the Republican Party decided to only remove those who failed to meet the March 30 deadline set forth in state law for challengers, a defiantly loose interpretation of the South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision this past weekend.

Candidates tossed off the ballot have a couple of options at this point. One relies on emergency legislation introduced which would create a new window for candidates to re-file their documents. This window would supersede the statement in the SEI online filing User Guide which states candidates can only file once per year.

Should legislation fail, although I have it on good authority the legislation should pass vote on Tuesday, candidates may pursue the route of becoming a petition candidate. In order to become a petition candidate, those running would need to collect signatures equaling a minimum of 10% of registered voters in the area they wish to represent. However, candidates removed from the ballots will not be able to participate in the June 12 primary unless legislation is successful.

federal lawsuit filed by Amanda Somers, a removed candidate, and her attorney, Todd Kincannon, cited the need for pre-clearance relating to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This specific section, according to the Justice Department’s own website, “freezes election practices or procedures in certain states until the new procedures have been subjected to review, either after an administrative review by the United States Attorney General, or after a lawsuit before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. This means that voting changes in covered jurisdictions may not be used until that review has been obtained.” Hours after filing suit, Somers was reinstated on the ballot. Kincannon claims this to be one of the most bizarre situations in electoral policy history.

As it stands now, if challengers do not file correctly, they risk invalidating their candidacy. However, if incumbents file incorrectly, they are fined $100 and continue with their campaigns.

More and more elections are being decided in the courts. Sure, the Electoral College trumps popular vote, but popular vote is still needed to rise to the top in the Electoral College. Those who founded this country fought for the right to elect our leaders and our right to lead ourselves. They didn’t fight so our elections and governments would be legislated and stripped of free democratic choice.

The situation in South Carolina is a dark one which could easily be repeated in other states and may even hold implications for nationwide elections. In fact, it already has affected national elections, most notoriously with Al Gore and George W. Bush. But even that situation doesn’t hold a candle to the sudden loss of choice for South Carolina Voters.

Our right to vote, our right to democracy, is one to which we should cling to tenaciously.

You can have my democracy when you pry it from my cold dead hands and not a second before.

 

Photo courtesy of D.H. Parks

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About Lauren Hale

A two time Postpartum Depression survivor turned peer advocate, Lauren Hale blogs about Postpartum Mood Disorders at My Postpartum Voice. She also hosts #PPDChat each Monday on Twitter for families struggling with Postpartum Mood Disorders. Lauren holds a B.A. in English and enjoys writing poetry in the forests of Virginia.

Comments

  1. AnonymousDog says:

    It’s easy to talk about the courts not choosing candidates, and ‘minor technicalities’ not keeping candidates off the ballot, but unless we practice democracy by getting together in open air assemblies and voting by a show of hands, someone has to have the ballots prepared well before election day after the candidates have shown they met the requirements to get on that ballot.

    Maybe you don’t think candidates should have to file a statement of economic interest? That would reduce the red tape.

    • Mike L says:

      AnonymousDog,

      I’ve worked on ballot access before, and I can say with certainty that it can be a real problem in many states.

      I know one of the biggest offenders is New York. If you want to fun in New York you have to be from a “qualified political party” or you have to run as an independent. To be a qualified political party, you need to have received 50k votes in the most recent election for governor. In case you didn’t figure it out from that sentence, this makes it extraordinarily difficult to start a new political party.

      There is, of course, a process for starting a new political party: you have to get thousands of signatures, and they must be collected from a majority of the state’s districts.

      This seems fair, until you consider: someone running for a congressional district will need to get signatures from OTHER congressional districts to get on the ballot. Why is this necessary?

      If you run as an independent, you need to get 3x the number of signatures as you would if you ran with an established party (which is why there’s a push to establish parties in the first place).

      Why is this such an issue? Why do independents need 3x the number of signatures as those from established parties? Why put up nonsense barriers (gathering signatures in districts you wouldn’t even represent) to get new political parties into the mix?

      The answer is simple: for quite a while people have blamed “independent” or “third party” candidates for being “spoilers.” Usually it looks something like “The democrat would have won, but too many people voted for the green party!”

      To cut down on this “problem” the established parties (read: the republicans and the democrats) take steps to make ballot access more and more onerous. One such step is now backfiring in South Carolina.

      For those of us who have worked on ballot access initiatives, this really is an ongoing problem. It’s good to see some discussion of it.

  2. AnonymousDog says:

    I would agree that the requirement for more signatures to get on the ballot is, indeed, onerous. However, your article made little mention of that, and seemed to be focused on the filing deadline and the SEI, You have to admit that some of the various voting reforms over the last century have done little to increase ballot access and in some cases made things worse.

    Personally, I think party primaries should be abolished and replaced by caucuses and conventions, or at least conducted at party, not public expense.

    • The article focuses on the filing deadline and the SEI because that’s the focus of this piece and what is at issue in South Carolina at the moment. The issue is not if candidates should file SEI’s, it’s that there are two separate expectations for the actual filing which has been exploited to withhold candidates from the voting public.

      The issue at hand here is a difference between State Law and the Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission stopped printing a paper form of the SEI and doesn’t include instructions on how to file as State law mandates. There was a very specific method which allowed for proper filing, one which very few candidates managed to pull off. This is not a case of one candidate screwing up. This is a systemic problem which has plunged the state into chaos.

      Information regarding this method was not filtered through proper channels and even those with the parties and election boards were unsure how to proceed which is why several forms were not accepted/refused or thrown out.

      I’m not looking to discuss who should pay for what or if a certain document should be filed or not. I’m pointing out that both candidates and voters have been and potentially will continue to be disenfranchised in the state of South Carolina.

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