Voting options limited in races for local offices

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Voting options limited in races for local offices

Published Friday, April 6, 2012   |  651 Words  |  

Elections are supposed to be about choices, but choices will be few and far between on Beaufort County ballots.

Of 18 local offices involved in party primaries (including our congressional districts), only four have primary challenges: the new state House District 120 (Republican), County Council District 1 (Democrat), County Council District 7 (Republican) and Beaufort County Clerk of Court (Republican).

Note that the primary winners in these four races won't face opposition in November unless independent candidates file to get on the ballot. Independent candidates have until July 16 to turn in petitions.

We still hold out hope that we'll see lots of competition for the 10 Beaufort County Board of Education seats up for election. That large number is a result of redistricting. Candidates for the nonpartisan board seats also must file petitions signed by registered voters to get on the ballot.

In two races, U.S. House District 1 and state Senate District 45, a Democrat and a Republican filed.

U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, a Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Bobbie Rose. State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Democrat, is being challenged by Republican Leilani Bessinger.

That's good, but the long list of unchallenged officeholders is discouraging if only because competition generally sharpens political skills and makes elected officials accountable to the voting public.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, who represents the 6th District, faces no opponent. County Council incumbents Bill McBride and Brian Flewelling have no challengers. State House incumbents Bill Herbkersman, Shannon Erickson, Andy Patrick, Kenneth Hodges and Curtis Brantley are unopposed so far. State Senate incumbents Tom Davis and Chip Campsen, who now represents part of Beaufort County, are unopposed. So is incumbent 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone and Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen.

Why don't we have more people running for office? Is it the paltry pay compared with the time and aggravation required? If that's the case, why does anybody run and why do we have repeat filers for office? Are people reluctant to subject themselves to public scrutiny and criticism? Are we that satisfied with the performance of our elected officials?

The small number of people willing to run for office makes what happened in Hardeeville City Council candidate filings all the more troubling and Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen's decision in the dispute all the more welcome.

The Hardeeville Municipal Election Commission ruled ineligible candidate Scott Ready. He mistakenly filed as an "elected official" rather than as a "candidate," an error state Election Commission officials said was common. Ready corrected the mistake within two hours of being notified, and state officials deemed him eligible for the May 8 municipal election ballot.

Mullen ruled in an emergency hearing Tuesday that the law requires candidates to file proper paperwork on time, which Ready did. No statute excludes candidates from ballots due to clerical errors.

The Hardeeville commission met on Ready's candidacy at the request of Joyce Meeks, the mother-in-law of incumbent Roy Powell, who is seeking re-election. Meeks did not recuse herself from the decision and said she had no conflict of interest.

That's a hard case to make under the circumstances, and the decision to put Ready on the ballot only made sense. We're sure Powell is up to the competition. The last thing we need is for candidates to get knocked off the ballot for minor mistakes that are easily fixed.

With so few choices on the ballot, it's not surprising we're generally disappointed in voter turnout, even in general election years. The notable exceptions to that are presidential elections. Beaufort County's voter turnout in 2008 approached 80 percent. We expect the same this year.

So as a reminder, you have until May 12 to register to vote in the June 12 primary and Oct. 6 for the Nov. 6 general election. Please vote.