Ending political ‘death penalty’ in SC

Proposal would give SC candidates a 2nd chance to stay on the ballots

abeam@thestate.comJanuary 4, 2013 

Candidates who do not follow the rules when filing for elected office should pay a fine instead of getting kicked off the ballot, according to a proposal headed to the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

New state Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, is pushing the bill.

Thurmond was one of more than 250 candidates statewide who were removed from the ballot last year for failing to file a paper copy of their statement of economic interests, as state law requires. Thurmond got back on the ballot after a state judge ordered a new election — a rare exception. He then defeated Democrat Paul Tinkler.

“The remedy is not to give people less choice at the ballot box,” Thurmond said Thursday during a public hearing on the bill.

Instead, Thurmond said the candidate should pay a fine and then have a week to file the paperwork properly.

Many of the removed candidates got back on the ballot as petition candidates, but nearly all lost. State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, was the only petition candidate to defeat a Senate incumbent.

“It was a death penalty for candidates,” Shealy said. “There was no, you know, grace period.”

But House Republicans do not support the idea.

House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, said the Republican Party’s top priority will be “overhauling the way candidates qualify and file for office.”

He said that overhaul will result in the new rules clear enough so candidates will have no excuse for not filing properly. “You ought to follow those rules if you want to be a candidate,” he said.

House Democrats disagreed.

“We should err on the side of keeping that person on the ballot,” said House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun. “Our job is to write a law that encourages people to participate in the process.”

The bill also would:

• Treat challengers and incumbents the same. During the 2012 election, incumbents did not have to file the same paperwork as challengers, so incumbents were not affected by the problems. That angered some voters, who saw the law as designed to protect incumbents.

• Delete the requirement that candidates file hard copies of their paperwork. The 2012 election required candidates to file both electronic and paper forms. Most candidates were removed from the ballot because they filed an electronic copy but did not file a paper copy. The proposal would eliminate paper copies in favor of electronic forms.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss the bill Tuesday; members are expected to send it to the full Senate for a vote. It could be the first piece of legislation the Senate passes in 2013.

State Sen. Larry Martin, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the bill is his top priority.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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