Sterling, other SC candidates booted from primary ballot by Supreme Court ruling

gmartin@islandpacket.comJune 6, 2012 

And then there were two.

Laura Sterling was removed from the S.C. House District 120 race after a ruling Tuesday by the state Supreme Court that also affected about 200 other GOP candidates statewide.

The decision leaves Weston Newton and Jerry Stewart as the remaining Republican candidates for the seat, which represents parts of Beaufort and Jasper counties. The primary is June 12.

"I'm in disbelief," Sterling said after she was notified of the decision Wednesday afternoon. "I wasn't aware there was a case going on that could affect me."

The case stems from the contention of Florence County Democrats that the GOP hadn't abided by an earlier court ruling requiring candidates to simultaneously hand in financial and candidacy paperwork when filing to run.

The court agreed, and although it said its ruling applies only to Florence County, it warned that other counties that disobeyed its previous edict did so "at their own peril."

At issue is a 1991 state law requiring candidates to turn in a "statement of economic interest," meant to show voters potential conflicts of interest, when they file to run.

The law exempted incumbents at all government levels from submitting their statements at the same time as their election filings because they already are required to file the economic-interest forms by April 15.

Sterling called the exemption unfair.

"I think it's disgraceful that people new to this process are treated this way," she said. "Now I'm silenced and humbled."

Sterling registered with the party as a candidate March 15 and filed the disclosure form electronically with the commission March 30.

Legislators say the law was written to avoid duplication in election years. But it contributed to confusion after a 2010 law required online filing. While the intent was to reduce paperwork, the legislature didn't match up separate sections of the law pertaining to annual and candidate filing.

Beaufort County GOP Chairman Jerry Hallman echoed Sterling's concerns.

"It's bad," he said. "Two hundred candidates ... sounds like a heck of a lot, especially over a little technicality like this."

He added that voters statewide are among the losers in the court's decision.

"It's not logical, it's not rational, and it's kind of a sad thing to disenfranchise the voters like this," he said.

The Associated Press contributed.

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