Light at end of tunnel for troubled primaries

Several bright rays of common sense cut through South Carolina's murky primary process this past week.

The state Senate approved a bill that would simplify and standardize party primary filings. Candidates would file with county election commissions rather than with county party officials. That puts professionals, whose job is to know the law, in charge of collecting paperwork and certifying candidates for the ballots.

Candidates' getting wrong and conflicting advice knocked off more than 180 people from primary ballots.

The bill requires candidates to file electronically a statement of economic interests with the state Election Commission before filing their intention to run for office. (Incumbents would have the same requirements.) That reconciles two conflicting statutes.

The House should support the measure.

The second bright spot was the state Election Commission saying "no" to a move to get Katrina Shealy on the Republican primary ballot as a challenger to state Sen. Jake Knotts. Their potential primary race is at the bottom of a lawsuit that landed before the state Supreme Court and resulted in the primary candidate upheaval.

The commission said it could not ignore the Supreme Court's order that the Democratic and Republican parties had until noon May 4 to determine which candidates had followed the law in filing their statements of economic interests.

"To accept candidates after (May 4) would be in violation of that order," election commission spokesman Chris Whitmire told The Associated Press. "The June primary ballots are set. Ballots have been printed. Voting machines have been prepared, and voters are voting."

The commission was right, and the state GOP executive committee should not have tried to reinstate Shealy, the only one of five would-be Republican primary candidates to succeed in her appeal Wednesday.

The third ray of common sense came from Attorney General Alan Wilson, who released an opinion Wednesday that stated candidates who were bounced from primary ballots could try to get on the general election ballot through petition. Their failure to meet primary filing rules did not preclude them from getting on the general election ballot if they collect enough signatures. That's good news for candidates willing to work and good news for voters who could get a ballot choice.

Clouding the week's positive news was Gov. Nikki Haley's plea to the GOP executive committee at the hearing about reinstating candidates to the primary ballot.

Haley, a Shealy supporter, told the committee, "I want to have fresh faces, fresh voices in that building over there. If you want to fix it, you can."

Haley should have stayed out of it. She said she didn't come to the committee meeting to influence the decision about Shealy, but the timing of her speech to party officials and the outcome of the hearing suggest otherwise.

This isn't about Haley's wanting new faces in the Statehouse nor is it about a government bureaucracy standing in the way of a free and fair election, as she claimed Thursday after the Election Commission said it would not put Shealy on the ballot.

This is about the rule of law. It's about fairness and consistency.

Party officials must accept government oversight. They've turned over running their primaries to the state. Laws are on the books laying out the process. Candidates can find out what's required of them. There's no secret handshake or password involved.

The people who can fix the process are lawmakers, who can pass a bill, and the governor, who can sign it into law.

The people who can deliver "fresh faces" are the voters.

And if those candidates who didn't make the cut for the June 12 primary truly want to serve, they can get out there and ask registered voters to sign their petitions.

A "free and fair election" most certainly can be had, and it can come with choices for voters.