S.C. Rep.-elect Felder: ‘Election reform needed’

mharrison@fortmilltimes.comNovember 10, 2012 

— In a race pitting first-time candidates to serve the newly created S.C. House District 26, Raye Felder, a Fort Mill Republican running as a petition candidate, defeated Libertarian Jeremy Walters of Fort Mill 5,097 to 4,576.

Officials counted ballots long after the polls closed on election night and the candidates have somewhat varying views on Felder’s relatively close margin of victory. Felder was one of many challengers statewide who originally filed with political parties this year before seeing their names left off of primary or general election ballots due to a misinterpreted timeline for filing statements of economic interest. It didn’t affect incumbents.

Petition candidates had to gather a minimum number of signatures from registered voters before their name was placed on the ballot under “PET.”

Felder, the only S.C. House petition candidate to win last week, needed 1,234 signatures and submitted 1,661 ahead of the July 15 deadline to get on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. One S.C. Senate petition candidate did win, defeating an incumbent.

Petition candidates couldn’t be selected by voters who used the straight party ticket voting option – which S.C. voters tend to do, officials said. Felder said that likely cost her thousands of votes.

“District 26 cast approximately 16,000 votes for the presidential race with the Republican challenger having a two-to-one lead over the incumbent,” she said.

“Had the fair election process not been compromised with the removal of over 200 candidates from the ballot and forcing the ‘petition process,’ the House District 26 race would have been much different.”

Walters, a Fort Mill carpenter, said he expected Felder’s ballot position to work against her, but he credits his own campaign’s momentum for keeping it close.

“That was my prediction when asked by the big dogs what would happen last week,” he said.

“I said I had 50-50 shot; It’s a crap shoot with her as a petition candidate, but every time I spoke on stage people donated the next day. One day I spoke for four minutes and got $1,500. Apparently, I’m a good public speaker.”

Walters, who said he raised just under $5,000, suspects he was well outspent by Felder, who had GOP support.

“We laughed [despite the loss] because how much money did Raye and the Republican machine spend on her behalf and she only won by 500 votes,” he said.

Felder, who sold her Fort Mill-based insurance agency before filing to run for the S.C. Legislature, said “I am honored to be the only petition candidate for the South Carolina House of Representatives that was successful in Election 2012. I owe my success to great volunteers and truly concerned citizens.”

Early on election day, she made some appearances outside polling stations.

“I'm out here mainly to remind the voters, thank them for coming out in the cold,” she said. “It's the last opportunity to tell them ‘thank you’ for being part of the process.”

She attended an orientation in Columbia last Thursday and said she hopes to be part of a new, bipartisan atmosphere in which the Republican-controlled Legislature sheds its reputation for intra-party squabbles.

“My first thoughts for the new legislative session is compromise and teamwork. I want to see the elected officials across the state come together for the good of the people,” Felder said.

“Government must be more about ‘We the People’ and not about the ‘me.’ I have spent my entire adult career in preparation for this opportunity in public service; I am prepared to work hard for the people.”

One thing she hopes to help accomplish is a reform of the state’s electoral system to avoid the complications she and nearly 200 other candidates faced last spring and summer.

“I believe that with the total support of the General Assembly, we will work together to implement reform that will allow all candidates – incumbents and challengers – to use the same rule book,” she said.

Meanwhile, Walters, who became politically active during a child custody battle, said he’ll consider another run for office someday.

“A lot of people congratulated me for running in the first place and said coming that close is a victory in itself,” he said.

“I’ll try to stay involved and master that sort of campaigning and fundraising and public speaking. This started in October 2008 when my wife left me and it never stopped,” Walters said.

“Right now,” he joked, “I just want to go fishing for a couple of weeks.”

Fort Mill Times intern Dylan Walker contributed to this story.

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