Editorial: this election season beginning to resemble 2012

Remember the South Carolina election debacle of 2012? Hundreds of candidates for local and state offices were declare ineligible for the State Election Commission for not filing the correct forms to run. As a result, cities and counties in the state, including Laurens County, had scores of petition candidates in the November general election. That’s when Don Reynolds finished second to incumbent Ricky Chastain in the race for Laurens County sheriff. Reynolds was one of those whose names were removed from the primary ballots and he ran as a petition candidate, along with three others. This year Reynolds defeated Chastain in the Republican primary (after filing out all the correct paperwork). Ironically, Reynolds will face a petition candidate in November, sheriff’s office captain Stephane Williams. In the November 2012 general election, Chastain ran against Reynolds and three other petition candidates – Eric Robinson, David Brewer and Jerry Campbell, all of whom had been removed from the primary election by the State Election Commission. In the unprecedented 5-way race, it looked like Chastain was going to lose. He had already asked someone for Reynolds’ cell phone number, planning to call and concede the election. But late-reporting precincts gave the sheriff, who has weathered two scandals in his personal life, another four years in office. In the 2016 Republican primary, Reynolds (who was endorsed by the Laurens County Republican Party in the 2012 general election) defeated the incumbent sheriff 53%-46%. Unless Williams is successful as a petition candidate, Reynolds will take office in January, 2017. Local election officials and political party officials were hoping that the 2016 election cycle would be normal – or at least more calm than in 2012. It was not to be. Coroner Nick Nichols, who may be the last serving Democrat in Laurens County, filed a lawsuit in June claiming his general election opponent, Republican James Hayes, was not qualified to be certified as a candidate for coroner. Incumbent coroners in three other counties filed similar lawsuits. Hayes filed a countersuit against Nichols, claiming the incumbent made the same filing error Hayes was alleged to make in Nichols’ suit. Nichols lawsuit against Hayes was heard by a circuit court judge in Greenwood, who issued a ruling the same day which removed Hayes from the ballot. Hayes’ suit against Nichols has not been heard by a judge, but the judge hearing Nichols’ lawsuit against Hayes, Frank Addy Jr., said, “Certainly, Mr. Nichols (based on 20-plus years experience as coroner and assistant coroner) is qualified to be the coroner of Laurens County.” As a result of Hayes being kicked off the ballot, the Laurens County Republican Party has reopened filing for the office of coroner. Filing started yesterday and ends next Tuesday. If more than one candidate files, a primary will be held Aug. 30. Hayes told Chronicle Editor Vic MacDonald he’s going to file again to run. Hayes said an attorney who is a legislator is advising him. The attorney says all Hayes has to do is enroll in the coroner’s course at St. Louis University (he is enrolled for Aug. 21-25) and list the enrollment on his filing affidavit. According to Hayes, if he then submits the affidavit to the elections commission, he is eligible to be on the ballot again. Nichols was certainly within his rights to contest Hayes’ candidacy if he thinks the challenger didn’t follow the strict eligibility guidelines set by the SC General Assembly. Hayes is certainly within his rights to run for coroner if he meets the eligibility requirements. Judge Addy was clear he would rather not have been dragged into a local political contest. “The court would have sincerely preferred that the voters of Laurens County decide this matter by weighing the general qualifications of the competing candidates and the court is troubled by what may appear to be a very undemocratic result.” But there was no doubt what the law required, he said, and he acted accordingly. We agree with the judge. Let the voters decide.

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