Just days after they were removed from the ballot because of a decision by the State Supreme Court, three Democrats announced Monday that they will run as petition candidates in the November general election.
In a decision handed down last week, the court ruled that candidates for public office must provide their party with a paper copy of their statement of economic interest regardless of whether it has already been filed electronically. The court’s decision resulted in hundreds of candidates throughout South Carolina being removed from either the June 12 primary and/or the November general ballot by the Democratic and Republican parties.
Of 17 candidates running in the primary and/or the general election in Union County, nine — seven Democrats and two Republicans — were removed from the ballot. Among the Democrats, those removed from the ballot include Union County Sheriff candidate William Jolly, Union County Clerk of Court candidate Melanie Lawson, District 3 Union County Council candidate Crystal Coffer, and District 6 Union County Council candidate Kacie Lawson.
In Union County Council District 2, the court’s decision wiped the ballot clean as there are no Republicans running and all three candidates for the Democratic nomination — Curtiss Hunter, Ralph Tucker, and Frank Hart — were removed from the ballot.
The only option for these candidates and their Republican counterparts is a petition candidacy which requires an individual to collect the signatures of five percent of the registered voters in their district in order to have their names placed on the November ballot as a petition candidate.
Hunter, Lawson and Jolly said Monday that they will pursue this option.
The three announced their intentions during a press conference Monday afternoon at the Union County Democratic Party headquarters at 103 E. Main St., Union. Hunter said she is already collecting signatures for a petition candidacy in her district.
“As of right now, that is the only option we have,” Hunter said. “So I’m actively collecting names for my petition from District 2.”
While she will run as a petition candidate, Hunter said she remains a member of the Democratic Party.
“I am a Democrat,” Hunter said. “I am not going to disassociate myself with the Democratic Party. I remain a Democrat.”
Hunter said that she’d filed her statement of economic interest based on the information she’d received from the state party.
“We did everything as we were told to,” Hunter said. “We were told to file statement of economic interest online as this was the first year they were doing that.”
In announcing his decision to run as a petition candidate, Jolly also pointed out that he, like the other candidates, had filed his statement of economic interest online as he’d been instructed to do so. The SC General Assembly is currently considering legislation that would give candidates who were removed from the ballot the opportunity to refile their statement of economic interest and get back on the ballot. While he is hoping this will happen, Jolly said he is already gathering signatures for a petition candidacy.
“We filed online like they said to do, no one instructed us to turn in a paper copy, because they said all we needed to do was file online and that is what we did,” Jolly said. “I hope they get this thing fixed quick, but I’m not sure how they’ll get around the court. So I’m already gathering signatures to get back on the November ballot.”
Jolly also pointed out that incumbents didn’t have to have their statement of economic interest turned in to the State Ethics Commission until April 10 followed by a five-day grace period. By contrast, Jolly said challengers like himself had to have theirs turned in by noon March 30. He said this gave incumbents a 15-day advantage over any and all challengers.
Lawson said she is also hoping the General Assembly is able to successfully address the matter, but that she too will seek to have her name placed on the November ballot as a petition candidate.
“This has disrupted a lot of people and we all need to stand together, because this is not just local, it has effected people statewide,” Lawson said. “This has taken away the people’s choice.”
Union County Democratic Party Chair Ann Stevens said the candidates had acted in good faith on information provided by the State Election Commission through the State Democratic Party that instructed them to file their statements of economic interest online. When told this, Stevens said she’d questioned this change in procedure.
“We got this information from the state party and the state election commission,” Stevens said. “I questioned this because previously it was filed as a hard copy. When I questioned this they didn’t comment one way or the other. Hindsight is 20/20 but I’d have followed up on that if I had known this would happen.”
Stevens also called for the General Assembly to address this matter and correct the injustice done to the candidates who have been removed from the ballot and the voters denied full choice at the polls.
“This is not fair to the candidates,” Stevens said. “This not fair to the voters.”