Will 2012 “Ballot Fix” Happen?
SHORT ANSWER? PROBABLY NOT …
The big story in South Carolina politics over the last few weeks has been the utter clusterfuck that has befallen our state’s 2012 primary election cycle.
Once again, the Palmetto State has proven that it can’t do anything intelligently … or cleanly.
What happened? Well, as we exclusively reported way back on April 17, dozens of would-be candidates failed to file required income disclosure forms when they submitted their paperwork to run for office – rendering themselves ineligible to appear on the ballot. These documents – called statements of economic interest – are intended as a safeguard against politicians taking undisclosed payments in exchange for peddling particular interests.
Originally, both state government (specifically, the S.C. State Ethics Commission) and the mainstream media (specifically, The State newspaper) said that this failure was no big deal – claiming that an extension had been offered that would permit these candidates to file their paperwork late.
Unfortunately for these candidates, there’s nothing in state law about an extension. State law does say, however, that “a candidate must file a statement of economic interests for the preceding calendar year at the same time and with the same official with whom the candidate files a declaration of candidacy or petition for nomination.” The code goes on to say that officers authorized to receive these filing forms “may not accept a declaration of candidacy” unless such a declaration is “accompanied by a statement of economic interests.”
As much as we wish it were otherwise, the law is the law … (well, unless you’re name is Nikki Haley).
And guess what … two weeks after our story came out, the S.C. Supreme Court threw dozens of candidates off the ballot in accordance with that law, further watering down what was already a very weak field of challengers.
Now lawmakers are scrambling to try and get these candidates back on the ballot – although those efforts were dealt a setback this week at the hand of S.C. Sen. Jakie Knotts (RINO-Lexington), who has had his chubby fingers in this mess from the very beginning. After Knotts used his Senate prerogative to delay a bill aimed at rectifying the ballot issue, lawmakers tried to get around him (an admittedly difficult task) by attaching an amendment to a separate House elections bill.
This amendment would have accomplished the same goal as the original bill – i.e. giving a “mulligan” to candidates who failed to submit their income information on time.
“If the House votes to concur, it would avoid a conference committee and go straight downstairs for the signature of the governor,” wrote S.C. Sen. Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson), one of the amendment’s supporters.
And while the S.C. House stands adjourned until next week, House Speaker Bobby Harrell (RINO-Charleston) has made it clear that he will convene his chamber in the event the Senate sends over a bill.
“We stand adjourned at the call of the chair,”one House Republican source told FITS. “The Speaker will call us back if the Senate sends us an election bill.”
So far, so good.
With Haley on board, that means a “ballot fix” could conceivably be signed into law as early as Friday afternoon.
Assuming the stars align and that happens, though … what next?
Well, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson would then have to submit the legislation to the U.S. Department of Justice for “pre-clearance.” In fact, we’re told he’s already preparing just such a document in the event the “ballot fix” becomes law.
Why does South Carolina need permission from Washington, D.C.? Because the Palmetto State doesn’t have a stellar record of enfranchising black voters, and as a result every change to state election law must first be approved by the federal government.
How long does that process take? Well, considering that the USDOJ typically ignores South Carolina’s requests for “expedited consideration,” waiting for pre-clearance could mean a delay of up to sixty days – well past the scheduled date of the June primary elections.
And there’s no guarantee the feds would say “yes.”
Also let’s not forget that South Carolina is already well past the original April 27 deadline for candidate certification.
Why April 27? Because that’s the day federal law requires that overseas military absentee ballots be mailed for an election scheduled for June 12.
“If we hold an election that fails to abide by that statute, they will sue us,” one South Carolina election official told FITS.
In fact one South Carolina attorney, Todd Kincannon, has already filed a suit in U.S. District Court arguing that the S.C. Supreme Court violated this requirement by removing the names of candidates after these ballots had already gone out (a hearing on that case is scheduled for later this week).