COLUMBIA — South Carolina candidates booted from June 12 primary ballots because of a court decision will get their filing fees back, the Election Commission said today.
The agency is returning about $194,000 paid by 193 former candidates, after receiving requests from the state parties and those tossed off the ballots, commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said.
“The way we thought about is, these candidates never really filed ... and the right thing to do is refund the money,” he told The Associated Press.
The candidates were de-certified from the June 12 primaries after the state Supreme Court ruled last month on a lawsuit involving improperly filed paperwork. The justices ruled state law requires those seeking office to file a “statement of economic interest” at the same time they file for candidacy. The form is meant to show voters potential conflicts of interest, with information including any income from government entities.
The state Republican and Democratic parties should each get a check next week to distribute through the county parties back to filers.
“We’ll be sending it back down the line the same way it came up,” Whitmire said.
Fees range from a couple hundred dollars to more than $5,000, depending on the job’s salary and term length. The state GOP will receive more than $79,000 for 82 refunds. Democrats will get more than $114,000 for 111 candidates, he said.
Spokespeople for both parties say they asked for the refunds following the state high court’s May 2 decision. Democratic Party director Amanda Loveday said she was initially told the fees would not be refunded.
“It is absolutely the right thing to do and will hopefully bring some closure to this unfortunate situation,” said state GOP director Matt Moore.
A statewide primary normally costs between $2.5 million and $3 million and is partially funded by filing fees.
But it likely will cost less this year because officials will need fewer poll managers — the biggest cost of an election.
The loss of candidates means an additional county won’t have a single primary. Rural Allendale County already lacked one, while the ruling put Clarendon County in that category, too. It also means some counties will have fewer polling places open because there’s no countywide election. All of that means there will be even fewer runoff elections two weeks later, Whitmire said.
“When you consider those three things, they’re a wash compared” to the money returned, he said.
This week, the state House unanimously approved a resolution stating any decertified candidate is entitled to a refund.
“If a person’s name is not appearing on the ballot, and they paid their money, it’s just fair to refund it,” said its main sponsor, Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill. He applauds the commission’s decision, but added that the resolution is meant to ensure the refunded money reaches each individual filer.
About 55 of those tossed from ballots were House and Senate candidates. No incumbents were affected.
Since 1991, state law has required candidates to turn in the economic interest form when they file their candidacy. That law exempted incumbents at all government levels, who must annually file the forms by April 15. Legislators say the law was written that way to avoid duplication in election years, to avoid incumbents filing twice within a couple of weeks.
But it contributed to confusion after a 2010 law required online filing. While the intent was to reduce paperwork, legislators didn’t match up separate sections of the law pertaining to annual filing and candidate filing. The state’s high court ruled that state law still required those seeking office to file the paper form in person at the same time they filed their candidacy.