CAMDEN, S.C. (AP) — As the coronavirus has caused massive changes to life in South Carolina, one thing is proceeding as scheduled - the deadline for political candidates to be on the ballot for the 2020 primaries and November election.
But as filing ends Monday, there is uncertainty whether the Democratic and Republican primaries scheduled for June 9 will happen that day and if they do, how South Carolinians will cast their ballots.
The state Election Commission sees several potential problems, spokesman Chris Whitmire said this week.
— Will health officials still be recommending people not gather in large groups like polling places?
— Will a potential pandemic harm or compromise poll managers, who tend to be older than the state’s population as a whole?
— Will some buildings used as polling places like schools, churches or a nursing home in Greenwood allow them to be used for a large gathering of people?
To change the date of the primary or the rules, the Election Commission would need a law passed by the General Assembly, which took this week off without setting a date to return.
And when lawmakers do come back, they will have a number of other weighty issues to deal with like rewriting a budget after the coronavirus caused a massive, sudden economic downturn and what to do about graduation requirements after weeks of school were moved to online learning.
There is a precedent. The 1992 and 1994 primaries were held in August after redistricting problems delayed filing.
Whenever the 2020 primaries take place, the Election Commission is sending along a number of possible changes to the governor and House and Senate leaders including voting by mail, no-excuse-needed absentee voting and arranging early voting centers for weeks to spread out the crowds at polling places, Whitmire said.
“We know we do not have the authority to delay the primaries. We are continuing to conduct them as scheduled unless and until ordered to do otherwise by some competent legal authority,” Whitmire wrote in an email.
Gov. Henry McMaster said on Thursday he is deferring to lawmakers for now.
“The Legislature would have to change that date, At this time I see no need to upset that system,” the governor said.
The Election Commission got an executive order from the governor assuring county buildings used for filing stay open even if other county offices closed.
They also sent virus safety recommendations to counties. Kersahw County, which reported the most COVID-19 cases during nearly the entire filing period, followed them all.
Candidates were sent to a different entrance at the Board of Elections and Registration. The lobby had hand sanitizer and workers were behind a pane of glass with a small opening. Candidates were encouraged to bring their own pen to sign paperwork. If they didn’t have one, the office had a mug of pens and the candidate got to keep it.
In recent years, filing had become an event for some candidates with an entourage of supporters, reporters and television cameras. The coronavirus stopped that. A few candidates took selfies and posted on Twitter.
“The first woman to file had her whole family and everything. But that was it,” said Kershaw County Board of Elections and Registration Director John Caughman.