South Carolina election officials boosted Republicans’ chances of hanging onto former Speaker Bobby Harrell’s old seat, but Democrats wasted no time in asking the state’s highest court to reverse the decision. The legal duel began Thursday morning, when the State Election Commission voted unanimously to postpone the District 114 election, giving the GOP a chance to replace Harrell on the ballot with another Republican. Harrell is barred from running for or holding public office for at least three years after pleading guilty to six misdemeanor campaign finance-related charges earlier this month. Within hours, the Democratic candidate, Mary Tinkler, filed for a hearing before the South Carolina Supreme Court, contending that the Election Commission erred in ruling that state law allows the GOP to replace its candidate. The Supreme Court is expected to consider the case Friday – a mere four days before Election Day on Tuesday.
State Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison earlier said the 5-0 decision was “not fair for the voters, it’s not fair for the candidates.”
The commission’s decision opens up a “Pandora’s box,” he said, because candidates who trail in races could claim disqualification and state parties could try to find another, better candidate while delaying the election. Generally, state law says that candidates cannot withdraw from a race within 30 days of the election.
But the commission’s reasoning hinged on its finding that Harrell did not withdraw but rather was disqualified because of his guilty plea.
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