COLUMBIA — A three-judge federal panel chose Monday to throw out a lawsuit accusing South Carolina election officials of breaking federal law by sending partial ballots to overseas voters, but the attorney who brought the case said it was just the beginning of litigation in the controversy.
After an hour-long hearing in Columbia, the judges said that state Senate candidate Amanda Somers did not have standing to challenge the Election Commission’s decision to send ballots with only federal races on them to military and overseas voters. The judges did not give details on their decision and planned to file a written order later.
Somers’ attorney had argued that the decision to send the federal-only ballots violated the Voting Rights Act. That law requires that South Carolina get U.S. Department of Justice clearance for changes in election law.
Todd Kincannon had posited that the June 12 primary be delayed so as to allow time for his arguments that election officials broke federal law. Officials are required to send ballots overseas by 45 days before an election, to ensure military service members’ votes are counted.
Somers, a Republican running in Greenville County, originally sued state election officials last week, after she said her candidacy was thrown into question by a state Supreme Court ruling that financial- and candidate-intent paperwork must be filed simultaneously.
That state court decision forced the state Democratic and Republican parties to cull their candidate lists, eliminating nearly 200 candidates from the June 12 ballot. After party officials determined Somers had filed appropriately and could remain on the ballot, her attorney shifted his focus to potentially delaying the primary so that other candidates who had been removed from ballots might have their day in court.
But late last week, Kincannon narrowed his arguments yet again, solely focusing on allegations against state election officials and their decision to issue federal-only ballots to military and overseas voters. But the judges agreed with Election Commission attorney Elizabeth Crum, who argued that the decision didn’t directly affect Somers.
In court papers filed Monday, the Election Commission reported that, statewide, 568 overseas and military ballots had been requested. Absentee ballots can be requested until the day before the election, Crum said. Commission attorneys have said Justice Department officials knew about the decision to send the federal-only ballots to military and overseas voters and said the decision to send them didn’t run counter to federal requirements.
After Monday’s decision, Kincannon said he had been contacted by dozens of other jilted candidates who would be pursuing cases, both through the state parties’ executive committees and in state courts, to get back on the ballot.
“There is a general malaise over the 2012 election cycle,” said Kincannon, adding that he is involved in claims by both Democrats and Republicans seeking to restore their names to the ballot. “It’s fair to say that this election is a giant mess.”
State lawmakers’ efforts to sort out the issue were stymied last week. State senators failed to advance a measure that would have, retroactively, re-certified candidates who had filed their paperwork by April 20, including a five-day grace period – thereby reinstating 95 percent of candidates tossed from the ballots.
That measure would have required Justice Department approval, and even supporters said the primary’s timing made that unlikely.
Also Monday, a group launched an effort to gather signatures for candidates seeking to be reinstated. Talbert Black, spokesman for Operation Lost Vote, said that he would coordinate with other grassroots organizations around the state to help both Democratic and Republican candidates get their names back on the primary ballot.
“We’ll work to get any candidate back on the ballot,” Black said during a news conference outside the state Supreme Court.