Charleston GOP backup plan: Sponsor write-in candidates 

Local Republicans lick their wounds from a court-ordered ballot smackdown

The Charleston County Republican Party has settled on a game plan for getting GOP candidates back on the ballot after the S.C. Supreme Court knocked hundreds of them out of the running: Help them to run as independent write-in candidates in November.

This story goes back to May 4, when the court dealt a heavy blow to non-incumbent candidates, wiping nearly 200 names off of ballots for state and local offices in what had started out as a lawsuit regarding a single state Senate primary race. A Lexington County man filed a lawsuit against District 23 Republican candidate Katrina Shealy, who was seeking to oust longtime Republican incumbent Jake Knotts. State election law requires every candidate to file a form called a Statement of Economic Interest (or SEI for short) "at the same time and with the same official with whom the candidate files a declaration of candidacy or petition for nomination." But because lawmakers began requiring candidates to file their SEIs electronically in 2010, many candidates in this cycle filed them online before going to their party headquarters to declare their candidacy.

The court ruled that Shealy had committed just such a clerical error, as had scores of candidates across the state. Incumbents were shielded from the ruling because their SEI forms were already on file. Robert Barger, the man who filed the lawsuit against Shealy, had been paid $500 to put up campaign signs for Knotts, but Barger and Knotts both deny that they collaborated to get Shealy kicked out of the race.

Rather than throw in the towel, Shealy has been collecting petition signatures to run as a write-in candidate in the November election. And at a meeting Monday night, the Charleston County Republican Party gave the go-ahead for its ousted candidates to do the same thing.

The state requires that write-in candidates get the signatures of five percent of registered voters in their district in order to get placed on a ballot. That petition process can be grueling, with endless hours of door-to-door canvassing, so the local party decided to throw its weight behind any candidates who got booted from the ballot and are now running write-in campaigns.

The statewide party rules for the Republican Party forbid any officer or delegate to "publicly endorse or financially support a candidate for partisan office other than a duly nominated Republican candidate, unless there is no Republican nominee in the relevant race," under penalty of expulsion from their Republican Party office. On Monday, the roughly 60 people who gathered for the party meeting in the North Charleston City Council chambers voted unanimously to allow an exception in Charleston County this year, but only for candidates who had attempted to run as Republicans and were removed from the ballot by the court decision.

After the meeting, ousted District 15 House candidate Samuel Rivers said he would be running as a petition candidate for the newly created district that includes parts of North Charleston, Goose Creek, and Pimlico. But another former 2012 candidate, Chris Cannon, said he wasn't so sure he would be willing to go the petition route. He had filed to run as a Republican against incumbent Democratic Rep. Leon Stavrinakis in the race for District 119 (which includes parts of West Ashley, James Island, and Johns Island, as well as all of Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island), but he hasn't decided if he wants to challenge him on a technically independent ticket.

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Meanwhile, a recent lawsuit seeks to take the Republicans' last remaining candidates off the ballot for two crucial Senate District 41 elections: the special election to fill Glenn McConnell's vacated seat on July 17 and the regular election in November. The suit alleges that the two candidates — attorney Walter Hundley for the former and ex-Charleston County Council member Paul Thurmond for the latter — violated the same filing rule as the other candidates who were disqualified in the Supreme Court ruling.

At the meeting Monday, Charleston GOP chairwoman Lin Bennett urged party members to be guarded with their opinions about the lawsuit, saying their words could be used to hurt the Republican cause in court.

"If you don't think they're out there watching your Facebook pages, wake up, ladies and gentlemen," Bennett said. "They're watching us, and they're looking for any little thing, and while they may not go after you today, they may go after you down the road."


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