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