It depends on what the meaning of the word “the” is.
A group of mostly Republican attorneys brought Democrat Bill Clinton’s 1998 testimony to mind as the most-recent round of candidate decertification arguments were heard in an Aiken courtroom on Monday.
Representatives of the South Carolina Republican Party, the South Carolina Election Commission and respective candidates stated their case as to why certain balloted individuals have not meet ethics requirements, and why those who did not make the ballot did meet requirements.
Presiding Judge Doyet “Jack” Early could render his decision today.
Earlier this year, hundreds of potential candidates were decertified from the June primary election after a S.C. Supreme Court ruling shifted the ethical filings goalposts.
A May 2012 order by the S.C. Supreme Court (Anderson v. SCEC) states that a Statement of Economic Interest must be on file for “the same official with whom the” candidate declared their interest to run for office and it be filed at exactly the same time.
However, the current statute in law talks of the SEI to only be on file with the “appropriate supervisory office” within five days.
That first “the” from the Supreme Court has become very important. Decertified auditor hopeful Jason Goings and Ronald Binns, who brought the lawsuit against S.C. Senate District 26 seat candidate Deedee Vaughters, believe this change means neither Charles Barton or Vaughters should have scored a slot on the ballot.
Former Second Circuit Solicitor Bob Harte represented dissatisfied former Aiken County auditor hopeful Goings, who was removed as a candidate when his filings were deemed insufficient.
Harte said Goings received false information from the SCGOP about SEI procedure and acted in good faith.
“He found himself in the situation a lot of people have,” Early said, referring to the Supreme Court’s finding.
“More than 300, yes, your honor,” Harte replied.
Barton had a SEI on file, but it was not for the position he is seeking, but rather for his time on the Aiken County Council. Vaughters, similarly, had filed, but for her position on the State Lottery Commission.
Goings has filed stating that Barton should be removed from the ballot, too.
The SCGOP and SCEC, along with many other South Carolina judges who have already ruled on similar cases, believe the language of the statute should prevail, and those on the ballot should stay on the ballot.
“The Supreme Court had a misplaced word in an order,” said Joseph Preston Strom, attorney for Barton, who also derided the “the” in question as a mistake by a law clerk.
The SCEC is fighting for status quo as this 11th-hour change would mean a costly delay that could leave the office open to legal challenges to the ballot and missing a Friday deadline.
“To remove (Barton), first, it would have to be done before Friday,” said Elizabeth Crum, attorney for SCEC.
Crum told the court that the Uniform Overseas Voting Act means ballots must be able to send out overseas this Friday.
“In other cases, to remove somebody from the ballot ... it takes time to do it, there is an expense to do it,” she said before being interrupted.
“It’s a tremendous task, is what you are saying,” Early offered.
“It is not an easy task, it is an expensive task,” Crum added.
Crum said a delay in the ballots may leave her office open to a “Section 5” action.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act demands that certain states and localities with a history of anti-minority election practices – of which South Carolina is one – must obtain federal approval or “preclearance” before making changes to voting laws.
As well as arguing over the semantics and possible ramifications, the defendants, for both suits against Vaughters and Barton, also claim the plaintiffs’ claims are “a day late and a dollar short,” according to Crum.
The defendants also said this lawsuit was not the best remedy, as other channels were available.
They also attacked the timing of the lawsuits that have popped up across the state.
Early said he would email the parties his decision this morning. His decision should be made public soon afterward.