HICKS COLUMN: Lawmakers aim to fix ballot fiasco
The General Assembly convened on Tuesday, so it's about time for folks to start griping that they aren't doing anything.
But sometimes the Legislature will surprise you.
On Tuesday afternoon, a Senate committee began work on legislation to fix the ballotgate fiasco that screwed up last year's elections.
You may recall that about 250 candidates for various offices were kicked off the ballot last year. You may have been one of them.
The problem is these people didn't properly file statements of economic interest, which are basically forms to let you know what sort of financial stakes candidates have in various things. For instance, you wouldn't want a guy voting for farm equipment sales-tax exemptions if he just so happened to own a John Deere dealership.
But because lawmakers trying to streamline the system instead fouled it up, a lot of challengers — but conveniently not incumbents — were declared ineligible to run.
When that happened, House Speaker Bobby Harrell said fixing it would be Job 1 come January.
Looks like he was right.
Good for the goose
It's a good thing the lawmakers are so fired up to fix this, seeing as how they caused it.
The idea was to allow candidates to file these statements online, so voters could look at them without having to visit some state office in Columbia.
But these knuckleheads didn't change the existing language requiring paper forms. And the state Supreme Court decided candidates had to follow the letter of the law, no matter if that letter was S — for stupid.
Not even party officials understood that, so a lot of challengers didn't get to run. But since incumbents were exempt, they got a pass. That's not right.
Harrell says he's not sure what the fix will look like, but favoritism won't be part of it.
“It's got to be simple, and not an incumbent-protection act,” Harrell says. “We've got to make sure the rules are the same for everybody.”
That would be refreshing.
First things first
The House will get started on its own version of ballotgate reform this week too.
But that's not going to slow this thing down. Harrell talked to Sen. Larry Martin last week, and they agreed that whichever chamber passes a version first, that's the one the other will use.
“There's not going to be any pride of authorship here.”
You wouldn't think that would ever be a problem, but it is. In fact, it is usually a huge problem at the state's biggest high school, aka the Statehouse.
Now, you could argue that hackergate is a bigger problem than ballotgate, and that's fair. But there are 170 of these folks — they can divvy up the work. Harrell says delving into online security problems is the General Assembly's other top priority for this first month of session.
But unlike ballotgate, don't expect hackergate to get solved quickly. It's a complex issue, and when you try to do things too quickly, there's a good chance something is going to go seriously wrong.
Ballotgate is proof of that.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com or read his blog at blog.postandcourier.com/brians-blog.