The crossover from paper to electronic filing has caused many political candidates to be crossed off the ballot for South Carolina’s June 12 primary election, and Johnny McKenzie of Chesterfield County is one of them.
McKenzie had been slated to run for Chesterfield County Council’s District 5 seat in the McBee area against incumbent Frank Plyler. As of press time, McKenzie was not able to speak about his fate as a candidate and referred all questions from the Chronicle to his lawyer.
Statewide, nearly 200 hopeful candidates, both Democratic and Republican, failed to properly submit their Statement of Economic Interest (SEI forms) to the South Carolina Ethics Commission at the same time they submitted their statement of candidacy. SEI forms offer personal information about potential candidates, including financial statements for the previous year, credit history, and any possible connections to lobbyists.
Several election officials have said the filing process was not a problem when all the paper work was done on paper and both forms were submitted together to the Voter’s Registration Office. But this is the first year the Ethics Commission has mandated SEI filings be done exclusively online and many potential candidates failed to take a paper copy of the electronic forms with them to declare their candidacy.
“We are not involved with that at all,” said Lois Burr, director of the Chesterfield County Voter’s Registration Board, describing the whole process as a big mess. “That’s a party issue,” she said.
It’s an issue that had to be taken to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled last week, in a 5 to 0 vote, that “[a] candidate must file a statement of economic interests for the preceding calendar year at the same time and with the same official with whom the candidate files a declaration of candidacy or petition for nomination. Under longstanding rules of statutory construction, we find the statute means what it says.”
According to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, changes in election laws must come from the United State Justice Department.
Further statements issued by South Carolina’s Supreme Court last week said, “We fully appreciate the consequences of our decision, as lives have been disrupted and political aspirations put on hold. 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.”
Counter suits filed by the State Election Commission and the Lexington County Commission of Registration and Elections call for both political parties, Republican and Democratic, to provide a list of candidates who filed properly and to pay for additional costs associated with revising the ballot.
The ballots in Lexington and Chesterfield counties are not the only ones in question. Several districts in the Upstate and the Midlands are facing the same problem, as is Horry County. According to some reports, unless the legislature intervenes, entire ballots may be erased.
On Tuesday of this week, members of the Democratic party in Florence County filed petitions against the Republican Party asserting that “the facts are not materially in dispute.” The petition asks that the court not try “to resolve factual disputes, but instead focus upon the application of two statues governing the process for timely filing to become a candidate.”
According to the petition, “South Carolina requirements for filing to become a candidate nominated by a political party primary are clear.” They must file, simultaneously, each of the separate forms.
According to an article published this week in The State, by Adam Beam, “Several lawmakers have said they want to change the law to clean up the confusion, but there are many obstacles.” One of those obstacles is Senator Jake Knotts, a Republican from Lexington. Beam quoted Knotts’ promise last week “to block any legislation that overturns the Supreme Court ruling.”
Beam’s article also stated that Gov. Nikki Haley is in favor of allowing the disqualified candidates to be placed on the ballot.
According the website, scvotes.org, “under order of the S.C. Supreme Court, political parties were required to provide the state and county election commissions with an updated list of candidates who properly filed for office by noon, May 4th.”
For Chesterfield County the updated candidate list for the Democratic Party includes: Ted Vick and Phil Powell for South Carolina Congressional Seat 53; Eddie Rivers, Chesterfield County Council District 1; Frank Plyer, Chesterfield County Council District 5; Lenora Powe, Chesterfield County Council District 6; Matt Rivers, Chesterfield County Council District 7; Theodore Burns, Robert Cole and Catherine Thompson, Chesterfield County Council District 9; Kathy B. Sheeler, treasurer; Jack Rivers, auditor; Kip Kiser, coroner; and Faye Sellers, for Clerk of Court, is actually listed twice.
The updated candidate list for the Republican Party in Chesterfield County includes: Thomas Hunt, Chesterfield County Council District 6; Donna Johnson, Chesterfield County Council District 7; and Richie Yow, South Carolina Congressional Seat 53.
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, ext. 224, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.