Federal judges to hear challenge to Republican state Senate race in S.C.

COLUMBIA — A three-judge panel is set to hear a federal lawsuit disputing the results of a special South Carolina Senate primary.


The panel was appointed last week by Chief Judge William Traxler of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and a hearing is scheduled Oct. 16.

That’s two weeks after former Charleston County councilman Paul Thurmond and Sen. Walter Hundley are set to face off in a GOP runoff election today.

A South Carolina voter filed the lawsuit last month after the state Supreme Court ruled that a candidate who had once been removed from the ballot could remain in the race to fill the Senate District 41 seat.

Thurmond – the son of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond – was the last GOP candidate remaining as his primary opponents and hundreds of other candidates around the state were removed from ballots over paperwork requirements. He was declared the nominee, but was eventually disqualified himself over the paperwork issue.

So the court said Republicans could hold another primary – which Thurmond won.

Voter Reginald Williams filed the lawsuit that argues the state should have sought federal approval before allowing Thurmond on the ballot because it amounted to a voting procedure change.

Last month, state Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian – a Columbia attorney whose law firm also represents Williams — said the court’s ruling constituted “another chapter in the chaos called South Carolina elections.”

Thurmond and two other GOP candidates, state Republican officials and elections officials, are named as defendants in the lawsuit. In the complaint, Williams said South Carolina should have sought federal approval before returning Thurmond to the ballot, just as it must for any election law changes.

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, more than a dozen states including South Carolina must get U.S. Justice Department approval before making changes to their election laws. Federal officials must also approve a ruling by the state Supreme Court before Thurmond’s name can go on ballots for upcoming runoff and general elections, Williams argued.

While his name will still appear on today’s ballots, Hundley stopped campaigning after the Supreme Court’s decision. The winner of Tuesday’s runoff faces Democrat Paul Tinkler on the general election ballot Nov. 6.

Williams has asked that the nominee’s name be kept off general election ballots until federal officials OK the process.