Thursday, May 03, 2012

SC Supreme Court Ruling and Rebuff Makes Candidates Whine and Leaves Ballots Looking Like Swiss Cheese ...

Get It?  Wine and Swiss Cheese ??? By the Way - Where Is My Candidate On the Ballot This Year, and His SEI Copy?

     Just when you think you've seen everything that could possibly happen in elections and politics, South Carolina shows that we can still screw stuff up with the best of 'em!  Hanging Chads, dimpled Chads... now we give you the Swiss Cheese Ballot.  Why Swiss Cheese? Because the ballot is full of holes - you know, where the candidates USED to be!

    If you know anything about us, you know that legal matters are not our strong points.  We often have to ask other people what is going on, and then do our best to sift through all the BS, and try to judge how things are.  We're sure most of you here in Palmetto State politics already know what the deal is, but if you're in Canada, Germany or an area of Allendale County that hasn't gotten cable TV yet, here's what's up..

    When candidates in South Carolina file for elective office, they have a Intent letter, and also a Statement of Economic Interest form, or SEI.  The SEI essentially tells the SC Ethics Commission where you make your money, and where your money is, like which company stock you might have, etc.  It is a pretty telling form, so filing it is mandatory - but how you are correctly filing it is where a slew of candidates effed up.  Big Time...

   You see, a 1992 law required all candidates to file the Intent and SEI forms in printed copy together when filing.  Seems easy enough, and it was for a long time.  We did it ourselves twice without incident, but when technology came to Columbia, it confused more than one candidate.  How? Well, the SEI form is now available to be filed online, and it seems like all of the candidates from both parties did that, but many did not make a paper copy of the SEI and file it with the Intent form.   Up go the Red Flags !!!!

    All across the state, candidates either thought or were told that e-filing the SEI was enough - and the Ethics Commission decided that was faulty thinking, and any candidates who didn't turn in the paper copy were disallowed from the ballot.  Obviously with little time before the ballots all across South Carolina need to be printed, the grievance went to the SC Supreme Court.  In a 5-0 ruling, they said the rule is the rule, and they upheld the Ethics Commission decision.  Candidates and party leaders from both sides howled, and they got a second hearing today.  Once again, the Supreme Court told them to go home and cry about elsewhere... Game Over, it would appear.

   Now, the little nugget we didn't include yet is where the real problem is.  You see, this only affects challenging candidates eligibility... Why? Because all incumbent officeholders have ALREADY filed the SEI's previously.  So it's pretty obvious that even if a current officeholder completely forgot to file an SEI, they are already on file, and they get a pass.  Does it sound fair? Of course not.. Is there anything people can do? At this point, it appears to be no.  The only course to change this at any point would be for the State Legislature to revise the law, but that isn't going to happen.  The reasons why are obvious: first off, it's too late to do anything for 2012. Secondly, why would they EVER change a law that gives them a distinct advantage?

     That is what the SEI dispute really comes down to unfortuantely - the difference between how things SHOULD be, and how they ARE... Yeah, in a perfect world, an online submitted SEI form should be considered good enough.  The Ethics Commission has it in their records, so the reasoning for the paper copy is unclear to us.  But, it is what it is... The fact of the matter is running for office is a series of jumping through all the hoops - even the stupid ones.  If the rule says you need the paper copy of both at filing time, you need it. The rules are in the books, and it's up to the candidates to know it... We didn't say it was fair.

    Yeah, it seems almost like a modern version of Jim Crow laws, except the challengers are the ones being mistreated.  But, the rule has been on the books for 20 years, so you learn to do it.  We're sure at first a long time ago, someone tried to take a dump in a toilet without pulling the seat cover up first.... it's a hard lesson learned, and now possibly hundreds of candidates from both parties just learned it - along with county Chairs and State HQ's from both parties.  

    The best thing we can say about this is we all learned a lot this week.... Years from now, new candidates will be asked if they copied their SEI Forms, they'll ask why in confusion - and us oldtimers will wax on about the Great SEI War of 2012.... and the Swiss Cheese Ballot!   What kind of whine - uh, wine - goes well with Swiss anyway?



Lin said...

The SEC agreed that electronic filing was, in fact, the correct way to file. It was two political hacks in Lexington County, helping Jakie Knotts get Shealy removed from that ballot that filed the suit. Basically she filed late and their suit was that anyone who filed late should be removed. The Court took that a bit further and said anyone who filed electronically and not by paper should be removed. All because Knotts was going to lose this race to Shealy. Now, everyone is ticked off in Lexington county (as well as the rest of the state) and they are all working to get her on as a petition candidate. Wouldn't that be justice?

Ron M said...

I personally don't care. IF you can't fill out the paper work correct (or at all) I don't think you should try your hand at governing. BUT that's just me.

pluvlaw said...

Actually, while I can't speak to the intent behind the suit, the actual complaint was more than people filing late. The suit sought a declaratory judgment that anyone who did not file the SEI contemporaneously with the SIC were not qualified candidates pursuant to the law.

So the idea that the court made that decision out of nowhere is wrong. The complaint argued Shealy (as well as 3 other candidates) failed to follow the requirements of 8-13-1356, the political parties were required by statute to refuse their SICs.

What the Supreme Court ruled, was that the Election Commission was wrong. Just filing the SEI receipt (which I believe was a printout of a confirmation number) did not satisfy the statutory requirements for getting on the ballot. The statute requires that at a minimum, an actual paper copy of the SEI be filed along with the SIC.

The SCGOP, SCDP and the SC Election Commission all argued that the statutory requirements were met if one of 3 things happened.

1) the candidate filed his SIC along with a paper copy of a previously-filed Internet SEI;

2)an internet receipt (the "confirmation number" printout) could be attached to the SIC; and

3)a "contemporaneous showing" (ie. the party official checked the SC Ethics Comm. website, with the candidate present, prior to accepting the SIC.

The SC Supreme Court said only #1 meets the statutory obligations.

So does that mean a lot of folks who relied on instructions and advice from the SC Election Comm., and their parties are screwed? yes.

The interesting thing now will be to see what the local parties do. The Supreme Court was clear.

pluvlaw said...

Well, I guess we know how the Florence County GOP has decided to handle it. Admit that how they qualified candidates is not in accordance with the law, but certify they anyway. Stay classy, Florence County GOP...