COLUMBIA — A special election to fill Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell’s old Senate seat that had been set for this summer could be called off.
The House Judiciary Committee this week passed an amended bill that would lengthen the time period that would trigger a special election in partisan races, such as the one to fill the Senate District 41 seat in Charleston.
The measure, if passed by the Legislature, would effectively cancel the special election for the Charleston Senate seat that had been set for July 17.
The sponsor, Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, introduced the amendment and billed it as a way to eliminate confusion and costs associated with running special elections close to general elections.
Charleston would go without representation by one of its senators for four additional months until the November general election if the measure passes, a possibility that concerns Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston.
Stavrinakis, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, voted against the proposal. He said the seat shouldn’t sit vacant any longer than it has to. “We have a right to have a senator,” he said. “These things aren’t always convenient and they aren’t always easy. But the right to be represented trumps convenience.”
The special election has been pegged as a possible source of uncertainty for local voters because some might have to cast two separate ballots on two different machines June 12 to elect a nominee.
The GOP special election primary is scheduled to be held May 29, and a runoff could be held June 12 — the same day as the GOP primary for the general election in November.
The Board of Elections and Voter Registration estimated that the May 29 GOP special election primary would cost the county between $20,000 and $25,000.
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, said it would make sense to fill the seat if the winner would be expected to serve in the Legislature, but this special election is “a complete waste of taxpayer money.” The winner wouldn’t serve unless lawmakers were called back into session unexpectedly.
McConnell said Wednesday that he favors holding the special election.
He acknowledged the confusion surrounding the scheduling of the special and general elections for his old seat but said those concerns should not overshadow the importance of the special election. “You can’t go wrong giving the people the opportunity to vote,” he said.
Clemmons introduced the measure this week by striking through all the language of a bill that originally had been intended to address early voting.
If passed, his bill also likely would scrap a special election in Myrtle Beach that was set following former GOP Rep. Thad Viers’ recent resignation.
Clemmons did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Some of the Charlestonians seeking McConnell’s former seat said they would be OK with the special election being called off.
Lawyer Walter Hundley filed to run in the special election but not the general election. He said would be fine with losing out on his chance to serve as a senator for a few months if it means Charleston voters would have an easier time at the polls.
“If they can clear up this confusion rather than making it worse, that would be great,” he said.
Small businessman John Steinberger filed for both the special and general elections. “I play under the rules I’m given,” he said. “Whatever the rules are set at, I’m ready to go out and win the battle of ideas. It’s game on, one way or the other.”
The measure heads to the full House next.