Senators attempting to get disqualified candidates back on ballot
COLUMBIA — State senators are battling against time and potentially a pair of their own as they seek to get nearly 200 candidates back on this year’s ballots.
Those candidates include more than a dozen from the Lowcountry seeking positions ranging from local offices such as Charleston County sheriff to seats in the state House and Senate.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday passed a measure that would allow candidates disqualified following a state Supreme Court ruling last week back on the ballot so long as they filed a required ethics form by April 20.
But state Sens. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, and Robert Ford, D-Charleston, filed a minority report on the resolution, meaning the pair would have to remove their objection or two-thirds of senators would have to override it for the measure to be debated on the Senate floor.
Knotts supports last week’s Supreme Court ruling, which disqualified his primary opponent, and said some senators were “grandstanding” Tuesday by not amending the measure to address all future elections and not just this year’s.
The court ruled that primary challengers who did not file their statements of economic interest at the same time that they declared for office were not eligible to run. The forms are intended to allow voters to see if candidates have any potential conflicts of interest.
Knotts said he supported the ruling because the court, in his view, properly enforced the law.
Ford said it’s not realistic for lawmakers to try to address the ballot purge through legislation and should instead attempt to do so through the courts.
He said there’s not enough time before the June 12 primaries to expect the measure to become law because of several obstacles including the requirement that the state secure preclearance from the U.S. Justice Department for any changes to the state’s election schedule or laws.
Ford opposes the Supreme Court ruling, which knocked his only two challengers off the ballot.
Some senators think the Justice Department could fast-track a decision if asked.
But like Ford, Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, said the most realistic approach would be for the Legislature to join a federal lawsuit filed last week by a GOP Senate candidate from the Upstate.
Sheheen said that’s because if the federal court rules in favor of the lawsuit, the state likely would not need preclearance from the Justice Department and the primaries wouldn’t have to be pushed back. “If we don’t join in the federal lawsuit, then nothing’s going to happen, and that’s just reality,” he said.
A hearing on the lawsuit is set for Thursday afternoon in Columbia.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said senators today plan to work around the Knotts-Ford minority report and speed up the process by amending a separate, unrelated bill already passed by the House last year and set for final approval in the Senate.
The amendment would do essentially the same thing as the resolution passed Tuesday, Martin said.
Knotts, Ford or any other senator could still attempt to filibuster that effort.
But if senators pass the amended bill, it would head back to the House for concurrence or nonconcurrence, with the latter triggering a conference committee.
Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.