A funny thing happened on the way to Columbia . . .
And not “LOL” funny, if you cringe at the idea of South Carolina once again becoming the butt of a joke that makes life easy for scriptwriters for cable news shows and politically astute comedians. The state that gave the world “hiking the Appalachia Trail” as a new way of saying someone’s cheating on their spouse, as well as Alvin Greene, a Democrat who set a new low standard for U.S. Senate candidates and redefined “train wreck,” just axed a couple of hundred candidates from election ballots because of a technicality most people never even heard of.
One of the candidates is a former longtime Fort Mill businesswoman with strong ties to the area. Raye Felder, a first-time candidate, filed to run as a Republican for the newly created S.C. House District 26 seat and with the strong state and York County GOP behind her, likely had an easy path to the Legislature. Her only opponent would be a much lesser-known Libertarian candidate who’s also a political novice.
Felder, like many of the other candidates taken off ballots, was shocked and upset to learn that she missed a filing for a financial disclosure form aimed at lobbyist-related conflicts of interest. She filed an online version of the form, but missed the deadline for the paper version, as the new law required. Although some candidates have said they were not aware of the requirement, Felder explained that the instructions posted online were misleading.
The instructions are confusing, and it’s sad to see someone like Felder, who has been an active member of the Fort Mill community for decades and has friends and admirers on both sides of the political divide, derailed for something like that. The irony is that she says she had nothing to declare, so her form contained nothing but her name and address.
Now, state lawmakers are looking to draw up an end-around to counter last week’s S.C. Supreme Court decision that nullified the candidacies – a new law that would retroactively change the filing requirements. But even if the legislature can quickly craft and pass the bill, it would still require U.S. Justice Department approval. That could happen, but smart money might say otherwise. Considering the tone and frequency of verbal attacks by S.C. officials such as Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Senator Jim DeMint against the federal government in general and the Obama administration in particular, no one should expect the Justice Department to be in a mood to save the day. We would hope the department would look at the issue objectively, but that’s not politically realistic. It’s the same sort of situation we saw in Florida in 2000. Then, despite most peoples’ wishes, the state’s elections chief, who happened to be a Republican, was allowed to call off a re-count of that state’s presidential ballots because doing so favored the GOP candidate, eventual winner George W. Bush.
The question now is, should the Justice Department approve the emergency measure if the S.C. Legislature delivers it? That’s a tough call. Our first instinct is do what’s best for the voters, which is to give them a choice and a campaign for office that would give candidates the opportunity to discuss the issues and make their case. Conversely, what’s that say about setting rules for elections? After all, some candidates, including Libertarian Jeremy Walters, a Fort Mill resident and Felder’s would-be opponent, navigated the rules without any trouble.
Also, Felder and the others can still get their names on the general election ballot in November as independents by getting 5 percent of their district’s voters to support a petition campaign. That’s a low bar for any candidate with a realistic chance of winning.
If the legislature wants to change the rules for running for office that’s fine, but it should not be in effect until the next election cycle.