Dozens of petition candidates statewide have less than a week to collect the signatures that they need to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
South Carolina usually has two or three petitions candidates a year for state House and Senate seats. The state Election Commission has heard from 30 would-be petition candidates this year — and that does not include a number of hopefuls for county seats.
Ballot drives mushroomed this summer after more than 250 candidates statewide were punted from the June primary ballot over a paperwork glitch.
“This is South Carolina politics at its finest,” Roxanne Wilson said with a hint of sarcasm to a pair of voters while collecting signatures Sunday for her twin sister at the Grecian Gardens restaurant in West Columbia.
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Petition candidates have until noon next Monday to collect signatures from 5 percent of registered voters in the counties or districts they are running to represent. Thus some candidates have to attract more signatures from registered voters than others.
Election officials then have until Aug. 15 to settle on whether candidates relying on petitions have collected enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, although officials in Lexington and Richland counties hope to do it sooner.
Katrina Shealy, whose GOP rematch against state Sen. Jake Knotts of Lexington County is thought by many to be the trigger of the ballot debacle, says she already has exceeded the nearly 2,700 signatures that she needs to appear on the November ballot. A one-time Knotts campaign worker was one of the plaintiffs in a Supreme Court case that disputed campaign-filing requirements.
Wilson’s sister, Suzanne Moore, is seeking to become Lexington County clerk of court. She must collect 7,800 signatures countywide. Moore was 1,400 short after a Sunday post-church lunch blitz at Grecian Gardens and Lizard’s Thicket locations netted 300 more voters.
Brad Lindsay of West Columbia said he signed Moore’s petition because he felt the ousted candidates “should have the opportunity to be on the ballot. I don’t think they were treated right.”
About a dozen candidates in Lexington County, likely the most in any county in the state, are trying to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot through petitions.
Tommy Windsor, who also is running for clerk of court, said he is about halfway to the goal of 7,800 signatures. "It’s a big challenge," he said
Megan Hutto spent July 4 at a fireworks stand seeking signatures for her bid to run for Lexington County Council, capping weeks that included weekends and evenings at grocery stores and restaurants. She has gathered 715 signatures — just above the 664 necessary.
"I’m switching from petition mode," she said. "I’m getting back to the campaign."
In the Upstate, Rex Rice, a former state representative who is seeking to unseat Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said he has collected the 2,800 signatures that he needs to run as a petition candidate.
Collecting signatures has meant less time to talk issues but has put Rice in contact with more voters. “This is more, much more of a grassroots campaign,” he said. “People who have a chance to meet you might be more likely to vote for you.”
Linda Breedlove of Lexington said she would give Moore serious consideration this fall after meeting her while leaving the Grecian Gardens carrying a to-go box.
“She’s very tenacious,” Breedlove said after signing the petition. “That’s very courageous what she’s doing.”
Not all of the ousted primary candidates followed through with their initial plans to run as petition candidates because of the extra time and effort needed to gather support.
Debra Kennedy collected about 380 signatures for a run in state Senate 22, a district in Richland and Kershaw counties held by Joel Lourie, D-Richland.
But Kennedy stopped collecting signatures after the heat wave started, and she needed to pay attention to her bib business in Columbia.
She remains bitter over losing a spot in the June GOP primary because she and others did not know they still needed to submit a paper copy of their statements of economic interest after a new law allowed electronic filing.
“We did what we were told to do,” she said. “It was not fair.”