Ground gained to get 180 candidates back on primary ballot

ashain@thestate.comMay 8, 2012 

The Senate could vote as early as Wednesday to allow 180 disqualified candidates back on the June primary ballot.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure today that would allow any candidate who attempted to file an statement of economic interest by April 20 back on the ballot. The deadline was March 30. The state Supreme Court booted candidates last week who failed to file a hard copy of the statement.

The Senate put the new measure on the fast track by amending it to already approved House bill. The move also overrode objections to changing the law from state Sens. Jake Knotts and Robert Ford that could have stalled efforts to reinstate the challengers in state and local races.

Knotts’ decision led to a brief shouting match after the meeting with Roxanne Wilson, the wife of U.S. Rep, Joe Wilson and sister of Suzanne Moore, a candidate for Lexington County clerk of court who was ousted off the ballot.

“I’m telling you this is absolutely wrong,” Wilson told Knotts. “How could you do this to the people of Lexington County?”

“How come you can come up here and act you like you’re acting in public?” Knotts shot back.

“You’re self-serving,” Wilson replied.

The pair then met behind closed doors and announced they had made peace. Knotts holds the state senate seat once held by her husband. Later, the Senate overrode Knotts' and Ford's objections when they pushed the House bill to the floor carrying election rules change.

The rules were confusing. Some candidates and county party officials thought only filing the statements of economic interest online was required after a 2010 law. But the court ruled they also needed to follow the original 1991 law that requires filing paper copies as well.

Only primary challengers were removed from the ballot. Incumbents are exempt as part of the original law passed in the wake of the Lost Trust scandal. Senators were trying to correct the problem to prevent the appearance that they did not want opposition in races. But some judiciary committee members wanted to make sure that what they decided would not delay the June 12 primary.

The primary, now 35 days away, could be delayed by a required approval from the U.S. Justice Department, which can take up to 60 days.

Some senators wanted to keep the original March 30 deadline, which might still prevent a few ousted candidates from the ballot, but could avoid a federal review that delays the primary.

Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, said he plans to introduce a resolution to have the Senate join a federal lawsuit to make the state law consistent, which also could allow the primary date to remain unchanged.

Knotts also added an amendment that calls for candidates to file at county election offices rather than with their county party to avoid any confusion and they could provide proof they filed the statement of economic interest online.

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