An election will occur on Tuesday after all for the South Carolina House of Representatives seat belonging to former Speaker Bobby Harrell.
The state Supreme Court on Friday stayed a decision by the South Carolina Election Commission from Thursday that would have delayed the House District 114 race until Republicans could nominate a new candidate to replace Harrell, whom the commission ruled was disqualified by a guilty plea last week. The Democratic candidate for District 114 Mary Tinkler, who is expected to gain the most votes without a Republican on the ballot, had appealed the commission’s decision.
But the Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of the case, the justices only blocked the postponement until they could consider it. That means the justices could still decide to order a new special election after hearing arguments from both sides at a later date.
Charleston County Democratic Party chairman Brady Quirk-Garvan praised the court’s order, accusing the Republican-appointed Election Commission of trying to “hijack” the election. “We are thankful that the Supreme Court is following the rule of law and allowing the election to move forward as scheduled,” he said in a statement.
The Election Commission decided Thursday to delay the House District 114 election in order to give Republicans enough time to nominate a replacement for Harrell, who agreed to no longer seek reelection as part of a plea deal reached with prosecutors last week. The SCGOP and Charleston County Republicans had argued Harrell’s sudden ineligibility met the standard for a new primary. However, state law does not specifically address what to do if a political party does not have enough time to certify a new candidate between that candidate’s withdrawal or resignation and Election Day. Democratic attorneys maintained that the GOP has missed its window to pick a new candidate.
The court’s ruling means that, while Harrell’s name will appear on the ballot next week, only votes for Tinkler or Green Party candidate Sue Edward will count in the heavily-conservative district.
Republicans held out hope that the court would still rule in their favor upon considering the arguments after Election Day. “We appreciate the Supreme Court giving this issue the full consideration it deserves,” SCGOP Chairman Matt Moore said in an email. “The Republican Party will continue its work to give voters choices in House District 114.”
But Democratic Party leaders said Republicans already had their chance in the election, with State Chairman Jaime Harrison calling the Election Commission’s original ruling a “critical threat to our democratic system.”
“Bobby Harrell’s voluntary plea should not allow any party the opportunity for a do-over simply because they nominated a criminal in the primary,” he said in a statement. “Allowing political parties to use disqualification as a political stall tactic undercuts voters’ confidence in our elections.”