South Carolina court to hear elections lawsuit



COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s highest court agreed Friday to hear a lawsuit that could determine if dozens of candidates will be kept from appearing on ballots for this year’s elections and the justices set oral arguments for May 1.

Earlier this month two Lexington County voters sued the state Democratic and Republican parties and the South Carolina Election Commission, saying that a handful of candidates for this year’s elections had not properly filed statements of economic interests.

State law requires candidates to file the paperwork that details financial information, such as any income received from public entities, and names of any lobbyists in the immediate family and names.

But attorneys for Michael Anderson and Robert G. Barger said in court papers that several state House and Senate candidates did not file that paperwork either in a timely manner or, in at least one case, at all.

“This matter involves questions surrounding the integrity of this State’s election process, which is a matter of serious public interest and concern,” attorneys for the voters wrote in court filings.

Filing for South Carolina’s legislative and congressional seats closed at noon March 30. The State Ethics Commission also requires that the filings be made online, and Elections Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said this was the first March filing period under that requirement.

The lawsuit mentions only a handful of candidates, but state Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian said the ruling could potentially affect dozens of candidates who had not made the appropriate filings on time.

The voters had asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to rush the case, given the upcoming deadlines for the state’s June 12 primary.

Also on Friday, Chief Justice Jean Toal ordered the state Election Commission not to send out any ballots that could be affected by the lawsuit.

Whitmire says the commission is supposed to send absentee ballots to service members and overseas voters by April 28.

“We’ve made the court aware of that, so hopefully we will know more early next week so that we’ll know how to handle that,” he

State GOP officials declined to comment while the lawsuit is ongoing.

Harpootlian said he agreed that the issue needed to be sorted out quickly.

“I think it’s an issue that needs resolution, so we have clarity as to who’s going to be on the ballot in June,” he said.

South Carolina’s general election is Nov. 6.