South Carolina’s Democrats and Republicans received some clarity on Thursday from the state Supreme Court on a ruling that both parties fear could mean most candidates challenging incumbents would be kept off ballots for the June primary elections – thereby possibly enhancing the re-election chances of most incumbents. Both parties and the State Election Commission asked the court to rehear a case over the filing of financial paperwork, writing that candidates filed those papers according to the Commission’s interpretation of the law and need more clarity on how the filings should be made. The court said it wouldn’t hold another hearing. Justices did clarify their previous ruling, explaining that candidates who file paper copies of their financial paperwork at the same time they file their candidacy can remain on ballots across the state.
On Wednesday, a day after hearing arguments in the case, the court ruled that dozens of candidates should be removed from ballots because of improperly filed paperwork. The justices acknowledged their ruling would be hard to digest for some but said state law on the matter is clear. “We fully appreciate the consequences of our decision, as lives have been disrupted and political aspirations put on hold,” the justices wrote. “However, the conduct of the political parties in their failure to follow the clear and unmistakable directives of the General Assembly has brought us to this point. Sidestepping the issue now would only delay the inevitable.”
The court sided with two Lexington County voters who sued the state parties and the South Carolina Election Commission, questioning the eligibility of a few candidates. But the justices suggested several times during Tuesday’s oral arguments that a ruling against those candidates would apply to anyone who didn’t submit both sets of documents. Under a new system, the economic interest documents were supposed to be filed online with the state Ethics Commission, but the parties did not check for them. The forms include information like income and any lobbyists in the immediate family.