There’s a nasty little game incumbents occasionally play as they near the end of their political careers, particularly incumbents who don’t usually draw opposition. They allow everyone to believe they’re running again, but they never file for reelection. Instead, their hand-picked successor files just before the deadline, and then waltzes to election without opposition.
Most officials who wait until near the end of South Carolina’s 15-day filing period are simply procrastinating, or trying to seem cool about the whole thing.
Whatever the motive, it’s something all incumbents need to give up as we all practice social distancing in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. Challengers as well.
Last week, the State Election Commission urged candidates to go ahead and file in advance of the March 30 deadline “due to the developing nature of the coronavirus threat and to avoid crowding in the closing days of the period.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, just 809 candidates had filed for local, legislative, state and federal offices that will be on the ballot on Nov. 3 — considerably short of the 1,019 candidates who filed in 2016.
The agency is allowing (but not requiring) candidates to make appointments to register, reminding them that they can send someone else to file for them, providing disposable pens (although, really, candidates should bring their own) and working with county election commissions to make sure the offices stay open even if county buildings close.
In other words, it’s doing a lot to make sure it can get candidates filed to run — even if those candidates aren’t doing all they can to make life easier (and safer) for elections officials and other candidates.
The agency is also urging candidates to come alone, rather than bring a cheering squad, to avoid that candidate reflex of shaking hands. One presumes it would also prefer they not bring along any babies for photo-op kissing.
This actually offers a good reminder for noncandidates as well: Waiting until the last minute to do anything that has to be done in person always risks the possibility that time will run out. Right now, it also risks your health. And the health of everyone else who waits until the last minute.
Most of us have a lot more time on our hands now than we did just a couple of weeks ago. We should use that time to act in ways that are safe and considerate. At the top of the list: Don’t just avoid crowds. Make sure you aren’t part of creating one.