Columbia — A Republican primary winner is asking South Carolina party leaders to undo a decision by the party’s state chairman to oust him from the November ballot.
An attorney for Ed Harris said today that GOP Chairman Chad Connelly lacks the authority to disqualify Harris as the party nominee for a House seat representing Pickens County. Harris may sue if the party’s executive committee doesn’t void Connelly’s actions, said attorney Stephen Brown.
“We’re hoping they will fix it,” Brown said.
Harris beat five-term incumbent Rep. B.R. Skelton on June 12 by 73 votes, with 51.6 percent of just 2,219 votes cast.
Skelton’s attorney, Rep. James Smith, contends Connelly not only had the authority, he had the duty to make Skelton the default nominee, as “the only eligible candidate to begin with.”
Skelton first went to the GOP executive committee with his election challenge, alleging Harris did not properly file the paperwork needed to be a candidate. The committee rejected his complaint after a hearing June 21.
The Anderson Independent-Mail first reported (http://bit.ly/MeShoF) that Connelly reversed the committee’s decision after Skelton appealed to the state Supreme Court. Connelly said he had to remove Harris as the nominee because his “statement of economic interest” couldn’t be found.
“We couldn’t go to the Supreme Court without it,” Connelly told the newspaper. He did not immediately return messages left today on his home and cell phones.
Skelton, a 79-year-old retired Clemson University economics professor, declined today to discuss the case.
State election officials believe Connelly’s decision is unprecedented. They know of no other case in which a party decertified its own nominee following a primary win.
It’s the latest twist to a May ruling by the state’s high court that led to nearly 250 candidates being removed from primary ballots statewide. The justices ruled those seeking office had to turn in the financial disclosure forms at the same time they filed their intention to run.
The ballot chaos led to historically low voter turnouts last month.
Harris’ name wasn’t on the state GOP’s list of recertified candidates following the justices’ initial decision. Harris has called that a mistake. His name was back on the list by June 5, when the high court issued a follow-up ruling on candidates wrongly re-certified.
Justices made clear in that follow-up ruling on Florence County candidates that party officials who continued to disregard their order did so “at their own peril.”
Brown argues his client filed correctly as per the high court’s orders.
“I’m getting fed up. I won the election,” Harris said today, before referring questions to Brown.
At the June 21 GOP hearing, which Harris did not attend, Pickens County GOP Chairman Phillip Bowers testified he saw Harris’ statement of economic interest — a form intended to show voters any potential conflict of interest — when he filed his candidacy forms March 20.
Harris filed his disclosure form online March 26 with the state Ethics Commission.
Commission officials say what matters is that candidates physically turn in both forms simultaneously, not just have one in hand.
State parties must certify their November candidates to the state Election Commission by noon Aug. 15. For the two major parties, it represents a second certification. The agency generally puts on the ballot whomever the parties certify. Spokesman Chris Whitmire said any possible input from the agency would come after the August deadline.
Meanwhile, the agency is busy reviewing the signatures of voters submitted by ousted candidates who are trying to get on November’s ballot as petition candidates. They have until noon July 16 to turn in the necessary signatures, from at least 5 percent of a district’s registered voters. The agency has received seven petitions so far and expects to give an answer on the first two this week.
An unprecedented number of petition candidates are expected to win this year, since they will be the only candidates in some races.
Brown said Harris too is going that route to get on the ballot but said the party’s nominee will almost certainly win. Harris needs 799 signatures from the district’s 15,971 registered voters, Whitmire said.
No Democrat is running for the seat. About half of South Carolina voters cast straight-party ballots, which bypasses petition candidates altogether.