Amanda Somers, a Greer businesswoman seeking to become the only woman in the South Carolina Senate, filed a civil action Wednesday seeking injunction enjoining the state election commission from accepting late-filing candidates in the District 5 Senate race until it can be confirmed that this week's reopening of candidate filing was done lawfully.
Through her attorney Todd Kincannon, Somers has filed a complaint in the Richland County Court of Common Pleas — the county in which the SCGOP is headquartered. The civil action requests the court enjoin the South Carolina State Election Commission from adding any more names to the District 5 primary ballot on the basis that the lawful mechanism to reopen filing has not been implemented.
Furthermore, the complaint reads, "any such reopening would require pre-clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, something that has not been done and cannot be timely accomplished under the circumstances with the requisite ballot production deadlines."
Somers, a Republican, announced in late March that she would run against incumbent Phillip Shoopman in the primary election on June 12 for the District 5 (which includes includes portions of Greenville and Spartanburg Counties).
On Saturday, however, Shoopman contacted Chad Connelly, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party to inform him that he would not seek re-election due to personal reasons. That left Somers, who is running in a heavily Republican district, unopposed in the primary, and because no Democrats have filed, with a clear path to becoming the only female in the Senate.
But immediately after Shoopman withdrew, Connelly took it upon himself to call for the reopening of filing for the District 5 seat from April 16 to April 18, and soon, Tom Corbin, another Greenville County Republican who currently holds a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives, had filed to oppose Somers in the race.
In Somers' eyes, the SCGOP's decision to reopen candidate filing, when there is already an unopposed candidate who filed on time, is an system she was seeking to shatter.
"This is truly disheartening," Somers said. "When our state begins to make progress with encouraging women to enter politics, this is yet another example of what appears to be insiders cutting deals to preserve the 'good old boy' status quo."
Meanwhile, the SCGOP is contending that the decision was made only to ensure that there is competition in the race. There are multiple races in other districts in the state that have Republicans running uncontested that were not subject to new filing, such as the District 28 race, which appears will be won by Greg Hembree.
At the heart of the action is Connelly's decision to unilaterally authorize the reopening on his own. While SCGOP Executive Director Matt Moore has said there is both precedent and law that allows for reopening in such cases, Kincannon argues in the complaint that nowhere in SCGOP rules or the South Carolina Code of Laws does it state that a state chairman can take such action himself, thereby rendering Connelly's "Writ of Primary Filing" unlawful.
The SCGOP Executive Committee did meet late Tuesday night and endorse Connelly's decision, but even the meeting itself is the target of legal action, as Kincannon asserts that proper notice was not given to the committee or to Somers about the meeting.
"The state committee unanimously approved re-opening candidate filing," Moore said. "Zero committee members objected to the notice of the meeting — if they had, there would not have been a unanimous vote. Every party rule was followed."
Somers' action calls for the election commission to refuse to accept any late-filing candidates until it has been determined that the steps employed by the SCGOP are in line with all candidate-filing laws, and not just section 7-11-15 of state law, which governs new filing periods. Filing had closed March 30 at noon, per South Carolina state law. Somers has also asked the SCGOP Executive Committee to investigate the matter and deem whether or not the re-opening of the filing date is in compliance with electoral rules.
"We believe no lawful method has been employed to reopen the filing period in this state senate race," said Kincannon.
Somers said the legal action is based upon protection of the election process, and not about whether or not she is elected.
"I am treating this election process the same way I do all business and personal decisions I make," Somers said. "I am neither a lawyer nor a politician, and I need a deeper understanding and a clear definition of the law. I feel that taking this course of action is a part of the due diligence needed to have a full and accurate understanding of the process. My ultimate goal is to serve the members of my community and as a hopeful future law maker that all laws and processes are followed as written. As the current situation stands, I am not clear as to whether or not that is the case."
When asked by Patch.com if the SCGOP would have reopened the Senate 5 filing period had Somers, and not Shoopman dropped out, Moore didn't specifically address the situation. Moor said the the party focuses on whether the new period would be justified on the basis that the primary had "fundamentally" changed.
"If a primary election fundamentally changes, the state and county committees will always fall on the side of allowing more candidates access to the ballot," Moore said.