Usually election upsets come at the polls, but last week, the state Supreme Court provided one of its own. Nearly two hundred candidates, including 14 locally, have been tossed off the ballot because of technical violations of the law.
In a ruling Wednesday, the court unanimously found that the requirements to file economic interest forms weren’t met by a wide range of candidates, both Republican and Democrat. The forms list information about income from government work, and any lobbyists in the immediate family.
The political parties have to shoulder the blame for not being up to speed on the law, the Supreme Court said in its ruling. Economic interest forms must be filed when candidates file for office.
But incumbents weren’t generally affected. They are periodically required to submit those forms and, in this instance, on a later schedule. That raises the question of whether the law treats every candidate fairly.
It’s only right that the Legislature should do what it can to fix the situation before the June primary. To that end, Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, has called an emergency meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, aimed at allowing candidates affected by the court ruling back onto the ballot.
“I don’t fault the Supreme Court for their decision, but clearly there is a deficiency in the law if so many people were adversely affected by these requirements,” Sen. Martin said Friday. “Our democratic process should not be derailed by what amounts to a technicality.”
It may not be an easy fix. Changes in election laws require U.S. Justice Department approval. And any change is liable to produce another court challenge.
Nevertheless, the matter deserves the Legislature’s immediate attention. At the least, lawmakers can determine what needs to be fixed. Then they can decide whether an adjustment can be made without creating new problems in the near term.
As Sen. Martin said: “People across South Carolina deserve a chance to vote for those who made a good faith effort to comply with the law, particularly when they had every reason to believe they would appear on the ballot.”
Meanwhile, the candidates who have been tossed off the ballot, and the political parties to which they belong, should begin looking at other options to get on the ballot, possibly as petition candidates, in November in case a legislative resolution fails.
To the extent possible, the voters should get a full range of choices among candidates despite this court decision.