BY BARBARA ZIA and PEGGY BROWNDisqualification of many who expected to run for office in South Carolina’s 2012 primary elections has shocked both candidates and voters throughout the state.
The problem arose because state laws on filing as a candidate in the primaries have accumulated over the years, layer by layer.
The result is a complex, although legally unambiguous, filing process. The Supreme Court ruled as it had to, but the result is very unfortunate.
South Carolina already has a disturbingly high number of uncontested elections. The present disqualification of so many candidates compounds that problem.
A vigorous democracy depends on elections in which diverse ideas can be heard and in which voters can choose between the supporters of those ideas in fair and well-managed elections.
We need a short-term solution to ensure that voters in the 2012 election are provided with the greatest possible choice in candidates. The General Assembly’s recent attempt to legislate a solution failed.
However, disqualified candidates have the option of petitioning to be placed on the general election ballot and should do so.
Voters should sign candidates’ petitions to be on the ballot without hesitation, since their signature indicates concern for the integrity of the electoral process, not enthusiasm for any individual candidate or party.
We also need a long-term solution through legislative action, to ensure that South Carolina does not face a problem of this kind again. Candidates seeking a new office are required to file Statements of Economic Interest (SEIs) in both paper and on-line versions.
The paper version must be submitted at the time of filing. Many candidates failed to navigate these multiple filings correctly. Some were apparently given misleading direction by inadequately informed local party officials.
In contrast, incumbents were allowed to rely on SEIs that they are required to file annually, without resubmitting paperwork at the time of filing.
The rules should be the same for everyone, and should be clear, unambiguous, and easily accessible.
Most important, at present the state government manages primary elections in every other respect, but responsibility for candidate filing remains with the political parties.
This should not be the case. County and state election officials should manage the entire election process, including all aspects of candidate filings.
It is encouraging that the General Assembly seems to be moving toward reforms that address these issues long-term.
We must make sure that unnecessary obstacles are removed so that voters have the widest possible choices in our primary elections.
The health of our democracy depends upon it.
Barbara Zia of Mount Pleasant and Peggy Brown of Florence are co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.