By Paul Gable
Arguments have been heard and a decision is expected within a few days ruling who will be eligible to be placed on the Republican and Democratic ballots for the upcoming June 12, 2012 primary elections.
The case, brought by two Lexington County voters, requests the Court to declare any candidate who did not file a Statement of Economic Interests (SEI) concurrently with their Statement of Intention of Candidacy (SIC) be ruled ineligible to be placed on the June primary ballot.
While five candidates from Lexington County who failed to comply with the law were mentioned in the lawsuit, the case has ramifications statewide.
During the court hearing, justices indicated a broad ruling that will apply to all candidates who filed for the upcoming June 12th Republican and Democratic primaries will be forthcoming.
New campaign rules required all candidates and all elected officials across the state to file their Statement of Economic Interests (SEI) by the noon March 30 deadline, according to State Elections Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire. Additionally, the filing of the SEI must be made online with the State Ethics Commission at the same a person files a Statement of Intention of Candidacy (SIC).
These new requirements threw the whole election filing process out of whack statewide. The state Republican and Democratic parties sent memos to county parties detailing the new filing requirements.
For whatever reason, at least some county parties on both sides appear to have dropped the ball in getting the information to candidates.
The only exception to the new rules was for current public officials, a designation that includes incumbent officeholders, who were not required to file an SEI at the time of filing if they had a current form on file.
All elected officials must file an SEI with the SC Ethics Commission every year by April 15th with information about the previous calendar year. If the SEI due April 15, 2012, was filed before the election filing period began, an incumbent elected official did not have to file one with their SIC.
However, elected officeholders who had not filed an SEI before filing would have to file the SEI at the same time and with the same official with whom they filed their SIC in order to be in compliance with the law.
Checking the SC Ethics Commission website shows scores of elected officials, in addition to scores of challengers, who did not comply with the law.
A strict ruling saying all candidates who did not file an SEI at the time they filed their SIC are not eligible to be placed on the ballot seems to be the most logical.
However, such a ruling would eliminate many incumbent candidates as well as challengers. Does the Court have the nerve necessary to make such a ruling?
The exact opposite of a strict ruling would be if the whole law is set aside and no candidates have to have met the filing deadline. What would such a ruling say about the General Assembly’s ability to enact legislation? There has to be a reason to set aside the law other than nobody follows it.
If the justices uphold only any part of the law, both parties at the state and local level will have to make decisions about who goes on the ballot. Therein would lie the opportunity for several types of election challenges in both state and federal courts after the results of the primaries are known.
It is a conundrum, but it is hard to see how other than a strict ruling can come from the Court. As one observer said, ‘if the court decides the (new filing) law can be ignored, would it please compile a list of other laws that all of us can ignore.’