COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s highest court ruled Wednesday that candidates must file financial paperwork when they file to run for office, meaning that dozens of candidates cannot appear on the state’s primary ballots June 12, possibly enhancing re-election chances of most incumbents.
In a quick ruling following arguments heard in Columbia on Tuesday, the state Supreme Court acknowledged that the ruling would be hard to digest for some candidates but said the rules are clear.
“We fully appreciate the consequences of our decision, as lives have been disrupted and political aspirations put on hold,” the justices wrote. “However, the conduct of the political parties in their failure to follow the clear and unmistakable directives of the General Assembly has brought us to this point. Sidestepping the issue now would only delay the inevitable.”
The court sided with two Lexington County voters who sued the state Democratic and Republican parties and the state Election Commission, questioning the eligibility of a few candidates. But the justices suggested during Tuesday’s oral arguments that a ruling against those candidates would apply to anyone who didn’t submit both sets of documents.
Under a new system, the economic interest documents were supposed to be filed online with the State Ethics Commission, but the parties did not check for them. The forms include information like income and lobbyists in the immediate family.
Officials have not said precisely how many candidates are affected, but they know there are problems with state Senate and House races in more than 30 counties and local races in at least 26 counties.
Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the State Election Commission, said he estimated more than 100 candidates would be affected.
The problem affects few if any incumbents because they filed economic interest statements when they ran or were in office.
Republicans and Democrats have until Friday to submit the list to state election officials.
The court opted not to decide cross-claims of the State Election Commission and Lexington County Commission of Registration and Elections for reimbursement of the costs of revisions to the ballot databases and audio files, saying they are within their rights to resubmit requests for reimbursement once the applicable costs are known and ascertained.
Federal law required that ballots be sent to military and overseas voters by April 28, or 45 days before the primary election. But Whitmire said that law affects only federal elections, and none of those candidates were among those questioned in this lawsuit.
Whitmire said the commission always aims to have absentee ballots available at county voting offices by 30 days before an election, a self-imposed deadline he said he felt the agency would be able to meet. Anyone seeking to vote absentee earlier can also get a ballot, but Whitmire said that voter should know that some names on the previously printed ballots might be among those that will be left off later ones.