A judge overruled the Hardeeville Municipal Election Commission on Tuesday, ordering it to include City Council candidate Scott Ready on the May 8 ballot.
Fourteenth Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen said the election commission erred in removing Ready from the ballot. Now, his name will appear along with those of two incumbents seeking re-election to two at-large City Council seats.
"There is nothing more important than the ability to vote and to do it freely, and the court will always make accommodations" to those seeking office, Mullen said.
Ready mistakenly filed as an "elected official" rather than as a "candidate." He said he thought he was filing to become an elected official, a common mistake his lawyer and the State Ethics Commission say should not have stood in his way.
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The Hardeeville commission argued Ready's filing was incorrect and disqualified him from being on the ballot, a determination Mullen says is not supported by previous court opinions.
The judge said the law requires candidates to file proper paperwork on time, which Ready did. No statute excludes candidates from ballots due to clerical errors, Mullen said.
Ready's attorney, Jared Newman, also argued that the state Ethics Commission gives candidates 10 days after filing to make corrections.
Ready corrected his mistakes within two hours after being notified of the error after filing had closed. The Ethics Commission later determined Ready's paperwork was in order.
The Hardeeville commission's decision raised eyebrows because its chairwoman, Joyce Meeks, is the mother-in-law of incumbent Roy Powell, who is seeking re-election.
A meeting was called at Meeks' behest to decide whether Ready qualified to be on the ballot, despite the Ethics Commission saying he was eligible.
Meeks did not recuse herself from the decision and has said she had no conflict of interest.
State law prohibits a public official -- including those on local election commissions -- from deciding matters in which a family member has an economic interest of $50 or more. Powell reported $8,000 in income from the city of Hardeeville in his Statement of Economic Interest filed with the Ethics Commission Feb. 21.
"There was no intentional malice, but an incorrect understanding of what the S.C. Supreme Court has upheld in the past," Hardeeville city attorney David Tedder said during the hearing. "But it was their decision to make over whether a correct filing was made, and not the state Ethics Commission. They felt it was an incorrect filing."
Mullen decided the case after an emergency hearing requested by Ready to meet a 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline to be placed on the ballot.
"I'm thrilled the people of Hardeeville will be able to make the decision as to who they would like to have on council," Ready said. "It's unfortunate I had to go through this, but that is what our legal system is here for."
Meeks did not attend the hearing, nor did fellow commissioner Lyndia Daniels.
Commissioner Mae Montgomery, who did attend, said she was "fine" with the ruling and that Ready "is welcome to the city." She declined to comment further
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