Last week, a legislative attempt failed to provide relief to the nearly 200 candidates whose names were removed from the ballot by a state Supreme Court ruling. Those include 14 candidates in local races.
A plan to resolve the issue fell apart in the Senate over a disagreement on extending deadlines for filing the required economic disclosure forms. Even if that had been settled, though, it’s questionable whether a legislative fix could have gained U.S. Justice Department approval so close to the June 12 primary. And the S.C. Supreme Court had cautioned against any retroactive legislative solution.
In its ruling on May 3, the court chided party officials for failing to advise their candidates of the legal requirement to submit economic disclosure forms on the same day they filed as candidates.
Sharing the blame, though, is the Legislature, which approved an inartfully written state law requiring that statements of economic interest also be filed online.
In a few instances, candidates reportedly offered local party representatives their disclosure forms and were told they weren’t immediately needed, and to file online.
The economic disclosure form is used to specify any money that candidates receive from working for the government, and lists any close relatives who work as lobbyists.
Candidates might reasonably have concluded that filing the electronic form would be adequate, but it wasn’t. The court ruled that a paper form is still required under the law.
Presumably, the party primaries will go forward using the purged ballots.
But those candidates who were tossed off the ballot still can run as write-in candidates or can file as petition candidates for the November election. The petition route is the better idea, since their names actually would appear on the ballot for the general election.
Several candidates in Chester County, Republican and Democrat, have already banded together to assist each other on the petition front. That example might be followed elsewhere. Roughly 20 percent of all candidates were removed from the ballot by the Supreme Court ruling.
Petition candidates have until July 9 to file for the November general election.
State law requires 5 percent of registered voters in the district where the candidate is seeking office to sign a petition to put him on the ballot. For a Senate seat, that can be a daunting requirement — up to 3,000 signatures.
Ironically, incumbents didn’t lose their ballot spots because they are required to regularly submit the form in question. Consequently, theirs already were on file.
In a few races across the state, all candidates for certain offices have been purged from the ballot. In one Upstate House race, only a third-party candidate remains on the ballot.
Though legislators have been unable to come up with a short-term solution to this year’s ballot disaster, they should take action to fix the problem as soon as possible for future elections.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, says the least that should be done is to require that candidates file with their local election commissions rather than the political parties for primary elections. Presumably, that would ensure the candidates are properly advised about the filing requirements under the law.
The General Assembly also should eliminate any confusion about exactly what the law means. The fact that the problems were experienced statewide by candidates for both major parities underscores the legislative role in this debacle — and the legislative responsibility to fix it.