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Election 2012: Candidates gather signatures instead of votes

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Candidates cut from the ballot by a state Supreme Court ruling used the party primary elections this week to jump-start petition campaigns to get on the November ballot.

Volunteers set up tables at Waccamaw Neck precincts to collect signatures for three Republicans: Tammie Avant, who wants to run for clerk of court; Rod Stalvey, a hopeful for the office of auditor; and Mike Andrews, petitioning to run for treasurer. Andrews also collected signatures in person at Waccamaw High School, spending the whole day there.

“Only in South Carolina,” said one voter after signing Andrews’ petition.

A new candidate, Kathy Harrelson, was spotted collecting signatures to run as a petition candidate for auditor against Republican Brian Shult. She has worked in the auditor’s office for six years.

Darryel Carr, a Democrat who wants to run for sheriff was in New York this week, but said he had volunteers collecting signatures.

Signatures were collected in Andrews for Democrat Ben Dunn and Republican Bubba Grimes, who want to be on the ballot in November to challenge County Council Member Austin Beard for his seat in District 5.

Grimes was supposed to appear on the primary ballot on Tuesday but was told late last week he was disqualified.

Candidates were disqualified for improperly filing economic interest statements, according to the state Supreme Court.

Aside from incumbents, only three candidates in Georgetown County who filed to run for office, all Republicans, remained on the ballot by the end of last week. They were Shult; Stephen Goldfinch, who is running for S.C. House District 108; and Doug Dishong, who was defeated in the race for sheriff by incumbent Lane Cribb in the primary. Cribb claimed 78 percent of the vote.

Goldfinch’s opponent in the race, Democrat Jarrod Ownbey, opted this week not to run as a petition candidate after being removed from the ballot.

The state Supreme Court ruled in May in a case from Anderson County that the parties did not follow state law in qualifying candidates.

The law requires that candidates file a statement of economic interest and a statement of candidacy at the same time. Incumbents are exempt because they are required to file annual economic interest statements.

The court last week ruled in a case from Florence County that candidates were not “public officials” who are exempted from the law. The court chastised the county Republican Party, which claimed otherwise, for failing to follow its earlier ruling.

The case was brought by the county Democratic Party.

The reason Goldfinch, Shult and Dishong weren’t disqualified is because they provided a printed copy of their statement of economic interest when they filed with the party, according to Jim Jerow, county GOP chairman.

Goldfinch said it’s because of his campaign consultant, Tom Swatzel, that he filed correctly.

“I was fortunate enough to have a consultant that has been through the issues and is very familiar with the process,” Goldfinch said. “I paid him good money to know the right answers. He had everything printed out for me and told me where to sign, otherwise I could have fallen victim to this as easy as anyone else.”

Swatzel is the former county GOP chairman.

Dishong said it’s because he did his research that he wasn’t affected. He went to the State Ethics Commission’s website before filing to make sure he was familiar with all the rules and regulations surrounding the process to make sure he did it right, he said.

As for Shult, he said he just followed directions from the county party chairman, Jim Jerow.

“Jim Jerow has done everything correctly,” Shult said, calling the whole situation “absolute insanity.”

He can’t speak to how other candidates ended up filing incorrectly, but he and Dishong agree the disqualifications are unfortunate.

“This is really hurting the citizens of Georgetown County and the rest of the state, because we’re taking away their right to vote for the individual they want in office,” Dishong said last week.

“I would rather have everybody competing, including my opponent,” Shult said. “This is a disgrace. I guess there are going to be a lot of petition candidates statewide.”

In fact, Shult organized the effort to get petitions for GOP candidates signed during the primary.

Tom Winslow, a Republican, and Jacqueline Williams, a Democrat, both hoping to unseat S.C. Rep. Carl Anderson in District 3, are encouraging voters to sign petitions to give all candidates who were removed from the ballot a chance to run this year.

“You, the voter, should vote for who you want to represent you and not be limited by an error in the laws our current politicians created,” Winslow said.

Jerow said he and the party are disappointed in the process that has left candidates and voters in this situation.

“It’s disenfranchising the voters, the candidates, the whole process. But it is what it is,” he said.

Kolman said she spent 12 hours on Saturday and five hours on Sunday talking with Democratic candidates about whether to petition. Between the primary and runoff the party will have a meeting of candidates, their staffs and volunteers, and county volunteers to develop a strategy to best handle the election.

“It’s unfortunate and it shouldn’t have happened,” Kolman said. But “in some ways this might not be as bad as it seems now because there will be so many petition candidates working together.”.

No petition candidates will file until after July 9, and when they get the final count of signatures they will need to be certified, Kolman said. After that, they have until July 16 to file.

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