COLUMBIA — An anti-Lindsey Graham group says the General Assembly needs to extend South Carolina’s two-week primary runoff period to conform to a federal law that requires absentee ballots be mailed to overseas voters no later than 45 days before an election.
But a S.C. Republican Party leader and state Election Commission spokesman say no problem exists with the state’s two-week runoffs, held after primaries when the leading candidate does not get more than 50 percent of the vote. The state has in place a system for ensuring absentee voters can cast ballots in primary runoffs, they say.
As the result of a 2006 law, absentee voters receive two ballots at least 45 days before a primary that could lead to a runoff. One ballot is for the primary. The other is an “instant runoff ballot,” where voters are asked to rank candidates. That ballot is counted only if there is a runoff. The second vote goes to the candidate in the runoff ranked highest by the absentee voter.
Bruce Carroll, chairman of Carolina Conservatives United, said Tuesday that he has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice saying the two-week runoff timeframe is a “clear violation of ... federal law and disenfranchises our overseas military residents.”
Carroll, whose group opposes Graham’s U.S. Senate re-election bid, wants the state to extend the runoff period to 60 days. Graham’s five challengers in June’s GOP primary have said the best chance to beat the Republican incumbent is to force him into a runoff. Extending the runoff period would give an opponent more time to campaign.
Carroll cites a March 2013 letter from the Justice Department to state Attorney General Alan Wilson that takes issue with the state’s calendar for federal special elections. That letter does not specifically challenge the two-week runoff timeframe, said Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire.
The letter referred to the 1st District congressional race last year, a special election to fill the seat left vacant by Tim Scott’s appointment to the U.S. Senate. In that race, the GOP runoff, two weeks after the Republican primary, did not leave enough time to send an updated ballot to overseas voters 45 days prior to the election, Whitmire said. To address that concern, the state came up with the idea of mailing a ballot to voters meeting the 45-day deadline, then later mailing a second ballot once the candidates from the runoff were certified, he said.
In the 2013 letter, the Justice Department urged the state to “seek a permanent legislative solution that will ensure that its special elections calendar complies” with federal law. However, no legislative action has been taken to address the issue, Whitmire said.
S.C. Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore criticized Carolina Conservatives United for taking issue with the state’s election laws.
“I find it surprising and disappointing that any group claiming to be conservative would ask Eric Holder’s Justice Department to declare South Carolina’s election law null and void,” Moore said in an email. “There’s a process for changing our state laws, and this isn’t how it’s done.”
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