Committee sends bill to fix S.C. election confusion to Senate floor

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COLUMBIA — A bill supporters say should fix the problem that kicked hundreds of primary candidates off the ballot in South Carolina in 2012 is heading to the Senate floor.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill 19-1 Tuesday. It would sync the candidate filing process for incumbents and those seeking public office, and provide a grace period for mistakes instead of removing people from the ballot if their paperwork isn’t together when they file for office.

The bill also would attempt to decrease the frequency of mistakes by creating a checklist that party workers must abide by.

Under the measure, the candidate filing period would be shortened from two weeks in March to one week. Republican and Democratic party officials would be required to open temporary offices in county election headquarters to accept candidate filings. Under current law, the party can decide where to accept filings.

The full Senate should take up the bill next week. Judiciary Committee Chairman Larry Martin expects plenty of support but isn’t ready to say the bill will move swiftly to the House.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand to talk. Everyone has a story to tell,” said Martin, R-Pickens.

That’s because there were few races that didn’t end up affected by the “ballot I don’t know what to call it – crisis, time bomb, anomaly … we had last year,” said Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms.

Several new senators on the committee had to collect signatures and get on the ballot through petitions after being kicked off. In all, about 250 candidates found themselves off the ballot because they filed paperwork about their income and other economic information either electronically or on paper, but not both.

The bill would allow candidates to file that information electronically and bring some kind of proof, whether it is a printout of the form or a receipt sent along by e-mail, when they file to run and pay their fee. The proposal also would give a 10-day grace period to fix any mistakes that get by the person checking the forms and a $250 fine if a candidate messes up. “The only sentence should not be getting kicked off the ballot,” Campsen said.

Sen. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, was the only vote against the bill. He said he supports it, but thought too many amendments were made during the meeting and the committee should look at the whole bill one more time. Martin said the amendments were technical and there will be plenty of time for review on the Senate floor.

The Judiciary Committee also approved a bill that supporters said will close a loophole that some business owners are using to bring a form of video gambling back to South Carolina. Challengers to the bill promised a fight on the Senate floor, and even some lawmakers who voted for the bill suggested the Senate needed a broader debate on gambling in the state.

PARTIES PICK LEADERS

Senate Republicans re-elected Harvey Peeler of Gaffney as Senate majority leader for the next four years. Peeler, majority leader since 2005, appointed Sens. Danny Verdin of Laurens and Shane Massey of Edgefield as Senate majority whips.

The House Democratic caucus elected Rep. Todd Rutherford of Columbia as minority leader in a 33-12 vote.

Republicans hold 77 of 123 House seats, with a special election scheduled for March in a heavily Republican Greenville County district.

House Republicans and Senate Democrats elected their leaders in organizational sessions after the November elections.

Rep. Bruce Bannister was elected last month to the majority post. Senate Democrats elected Nikki Setzler of West Columbia as minority leader.

– Associated Press


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