Special election for McConnell’s seat now guaranteed

Clemmons

COLUMBIA — Voters in Charleston’s Senate District 41 will have a busy few months at the polls if they want to help choose replacements for Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell.

This summer’s special election to fill McConnell’s former Senate seat is now sure to take place after a state representative on Thursday abandoned an effort that would have effectively canceled the contest.

Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, amended a bill to propose changing state law to lengthen the time period that would trigger a special election in partisan races, such as the District 41 special election set for July 17.

Currently, state law dictates that special elections will be held on the 18th Tuesday after a seat is vacated unless that date falls within 60 days before the general election for the same seat.

Clemmons’ measure would have expanded the 60-day window to 120 days.

He billed it as a way to eliminate confusion and costs associated with running special elections close to general elections.

But Clemmons said Thursday that there would not have been enough time for the U.S. Department of Justice to pre-clear the change to state election rules before special elections set for this summer took place.

Because of past discriminatory practices, South Carolina is among the states under the Voting Rights Act that must receive approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before any change to election laws can become official.

If passed, Clemmons’ amendment also would have canceled a special election in his hometown of Myrtle Beach for former S.C. Rep. Thad Viers’ old seat.

“They will have insufficient time to address this,” Clemmons said. “By passing the bill and sending it on to DOJ knowing that they could not have the time to get it done, it would only throw more chaos into an already chaotic situation with candidates not knowing whether they should campaign or not.”

On Thursday, Clemmons replaced his withdrawn amendment with a new one that would do the same thing, but wouldn’t apply until next year, he said.

Democrats had branded Clemmons’ initial amendment as unfair to South Carolinians who would go without representation at the Statehouse for months, and an effort to help the GOP’s favored candidate in the District 41 race.

Clemmons said Thursday that the latter allegation was false.

The bill next heads to the Senate after a perfunctory final approval from the House.

With the Charleston special election now confirmed, some local voters might have to cast two separate ballots on two different machines June 12 to elect a nominee.

The GOP special election primary is scheduled to be held May 29, and a runoff could be held June 12 — the same day as the GOP primary for the general election in November.

Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.