Lawsuits challenge candidates vying for office
Lawsuits have been filed in Aiken County in the past several days challenging the eligibility of two local candidates vying for office in the upcoming general election.
The first, filed Sept. 7, names Jason Goings as plaintiff versus the State Election Commission and a host of additional defendants, including Charles Barton, who is the only candidate who will appear on the November ballot for Aiken County auditor. The second lawsuit, filed Monday, names Ronald Binns as plaintiff versus the State Election Commission and again, a host of additional defendants, including Deedee Vaughters, who is running for the S.C. Senate District 26 seat.
Both suits were filed in the Second Judicial Circuit Court of Common Pleas.
Goings filed earlier this year for Aiken County auditor but was decertified from the June primary election after a S.C. Supreme Court ruling knocked him and hundreds of other prospective candidates across the state off the ballot.
The court ruled in May that candidates for elected office must file a paper copy of a Statement of Economic Interest at the exact same time as they file intent of candidacy paperwork. Many of those who were decertified did file their SEIs but not until several days or weeks after their candidacy statements, saying they were not properly informed of the law.
The ruling did not apply to incumbents or those who have submitted the forms while serving in other elective or state positions.
Barton, the District 6 incumbent on Aiken County Council, already had a SEI on file.
Goings’ attorney Robert J. Harte said Monday that his interpretation of the law is that a person must turn in both a SEI and intent of candidacy at the same time, regardless of whether that person has the necessary paperwork on file.
Harte said he and his client are asking that Barton be decertified from the November general election, which is in 56 days.
Harte has asked for an expedited hearing, but there was no word on when that will be.
If Barton is decertified, he will be forced to run as a write-in candidate for the auditor’s position.
Goings, a media specialist at Silver Bluff High School, could not be reached for comment.
Barton said he would not comment on the lawsuit until he knows more about it.
Vaughters, who is running against Senate District 26 incumbent Nikki Setzler, said she was not aware a lawsuit had been filed naming her a defendant until notified by the Aiken Standard.
“I was totally unaware. I don’t know Ronald Binns, and I don’t know Tucker Player (Binns’ attorney). I don’t know what grounds they’re basing their lawsuit on,” she said.
Vaughters had an SEI on file because of service on the State Lottery Commission.
Neither Binns nor Player could be reached for comment.
Matt Moore, executive director of the SCGOP, described the suit as a “last-minute, desperate attempt” to disrupt a fair election.
Citing recent case law, Moore said the courts have been very unwilling to hear these kind of “last-minute, emotional appeals” from people who sought to have incumbents or primary winners declared ineligible to run.
Last month, Charleston County Auditor Peggy Moseley lost her bid to remove GOP primary winner Paul Gawrych from this fall’s ballot, and Berkeley County Councilman Bob Call lost his bid to have primary winner Ken Gunn declared ineligible. Both Moseley and Call argued that the defendants did not file a paper copy of an SEI at the same time as their intent of candidacy paperwork.
“They’re basically, probably trying to remove choice, and that’s tyranny,” Vaughters said of the suit’s plaintiff.