Beaufort News

One candidate off the ballot, two more may be

A state Supreme Court decision ended one candidate's race for Beaufort County Council Wednesday and the fate of two others is expected to be decided by the county Republican Party's chairman.

The decision also means dozens of other candidates can't run in the primary.

The court ruled on a technical issue -- whether candidates must file financial disclosure statements at the same time they file paperwork to run for office -- and decided that state law requires simultaneous filing of both documents.

Candidates say it's impossible to submit the documents at the same time. Rules require online submission of financial disclosure statements while filing for election is done in person -- and it's impossible to do both at the same time.The decision means Dan Duryea, a Republican seeking the District 7 County Council seat, can't run in the June 12 primary because he submitted his financial disclosure statement online on April 26,after the 15-day filing period closed March 30 and more than a month after he filed to run.

The fate of two other local Republicancandidates who didn't submit documents simultaneously -- Cynthia Bensch and Laura Sterling -- is not as clear cut as Duyea's case, according to county Republican chairman Jerry Hallman.Bensch is seeking the District 7 seat and Sterling is a candidate for the District 120 seat in the state House of Representatives.The court's opinion said it's up to the party official who accepted candidates' papers to decide who can remain on the ballot. In Beaufort County, that's Hallman.

Hallman said Wednesday night he's unsure what he'll do: "I have to digest this thing. I don't know exactly what this (decision) is saying to us."

He must tell the state Elections Commission by noon Friday.

Hallman said Bensch could stay on the ballot if a financial disclosure statement she submitted for an office she held previously is deemed valid.Bensch served on the State Election Commission from 2008 through 2011.

If she can't run, no Republican candidate will be in the primary race for District 7, which includes Rose Hill and nearby neighborhoods.

Sterling may also have some wiggle room, Hallman said. An argument could be made that filing the disclosure forms anytime within the 15-day filing period could be considered "at the same time." He said Sterling filed to run on March 15, and filed her financial disclosure statement on March 30.

"I thought as long as they filed it during the filing period, that was fine," he said.

Two other GOP candidates in the primary for the District 120 seat -- County Council chairman Weston Newton and council member Jerry Stewart -- aren't affected by the court's decision. As incumbents, their financial disclosure statements already are on file.

The court acknowledged its decision would upset affectedcandidates, but emphasized that the rules are clear. The failure "to follow the clear and unmistakable directives of the General Assembly has brought us to this point," the opinion said.