Bill to fix election problems heads to House

  • Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013 12:27 a.m.
    UPDATED: Friday, January 25, 2013 7:15 a.m.
Aiken Standard file photo
Kristi Betz highlights names of write-in votes for Aiken County treasurer following the 2012 general election.
Aiken Standard file photo Kristi Betz highlights names of write-in votes for Aiken County treasurer following the 2012 general election.

The election mess of 2012 that kicked eight local candidates off the primary ballot may never be repeated in the future with a bill heading to the South Carolina House.

The Senate passed legislation unanimously Wednesday that smooths out the variations that exist in the filing requirements for incumbents and the requirements for candidates seeking elected office.

“We fixed it,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, noting that the bill is designed to address only last year’s election debacle. “We need to respond and address what happened last year.”

It all started in May with the state Supreme Court decision that, according to a law requiring online filing, new candidates seeking elected office must submit a paper copy of a Statement of Economic Interest at the same time they submit their intention of candidacy. Those who did not file their paperwork properly saw their names removed from the primary election ballot.

The ruling did not apply to incumbents or many of those who submitted the forms while serving in other elective or state positions. They already had financial disclosure statements on file.

As a result of the Supreme Court decision, hundreds of candidates statewide were decertified from running in the June primary election. Eight local candidates, including each of the four original candidates for Aiken County treasurer, were removed from the primary ballot.

“I think everyone ought to be treated fairly,” said Angela Gunter, who was a candidate for treasurer. “They need to look into it.”

House 81 Rep. Don Wells, who was elected in November, already had a disclosure statement on file as a former member of Aiken City Council. Still, he understands the frustration of others who were dropped from the ballot.

“There is no excuse for what we all had to live through this past election cycle. We should never have to go through that again,” he said.

District 25 Sen. Shane Massey said the legislation, which currently sits in the House Judiciary Committee, treats everyone the same so there is no longer any disparity.

“We passed a good deal that will not get us into the same problem. People are not going to have to worry about getting kicked off because of an innocent mistake,” he said.

The next option for those kicked off the ballot last year was to run as a petition candidate. Only two successfully obtained enough signatures to do so – Andrew Siders, who ran for Aiken County Council, and Jane Vaughters, who ran for S.C. House 81.

“This is a step in the right direction, because it does level the playing field. It’s great (legislators) recognize the problem. It kept a lot of good people from office. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t vote for it,” Siders said.

The last option for those wanting to run for office was to launch a write-in campaign. As such, their names did not appear on the general election ballot; voters had to manually key it in.

As the November general election approached, no less than a dozen people emerged as write-in candidates – 11 alone for treasurer.

In the treasurer’s race, elections officials counted most of the write-in votes by hand, leaving Aiken County residents waiting several days to find out the results of the race.

“If the Senate bill was in place last year, the problems that developed would have never happened,” said District 24 senator Tom Young. “I anticipate the House moving swiftly. I understand it’s a high priority.”

The proposed legislation directs candidates to submit their Statement of Candidacy and pay the filing fees at their county election office instead of with local party leaders. Candidates would then have until March 30, the filing deadline, to turn in their financial disclosure form online. If they miss that deadline, they could pay a fine.

The current law requires candidates to turn in all paperwork at the same time.

“There are two things I like about the legislation. One, it says all filing must be done with the election commission,” Wells said. “Two, if there is a filing mistake made, instead of knocking people off the ballot, there is a chance to correct it.”

Both Wells and House 84 Rep. Roland Smith believe the legislation will be received well in the House.

“I personally think the House is ready to deal with this issue,” Smith said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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