Opinion

Allow late write-ins

On Nov. 6, the six members of the Clover City Council will be re-elected without their names appearing on a ballot or anyone casting a vote for them.

All these candidates will be unopposed. No challengers had stepped up to file to run against them; no one volunteered as a write-in candidate. It not only was legal to declare those candidates winners without holding an election, it also was required by state law.

When the official filing period for candidates ends with only one candidate for the post, state law requires that anyone hoping to run as a write-in candidate must declare an intention to do so within 14 days after the end of the filing period. If no one declares, votes for any unofficial write-in candidate are not counted.

When the state elections law was amended in 2002, the idea was to save cities the cost of holding an election in which few, if any, residents would vote. In uncontested races, cities would not be required to spend the money to set up voting booths, hire poll watchers, print ballots or pay for other expenses associated with an election.

In 2005, Sharon, a town with a population of 471, spent $725 to hold an election. Earlier this year, it spent nothing.

We understand the sentiment behind the law. It's hard enough to lure voters to the polls in a contested election much less one in which there is only one candidate.

Nonetheless, we are uneasy about denying the right of voters to support a last-minute write-in campaign. After all, South Carolina is the only state ever to have elected a U.S. Senator -- the late Strom Thurmond -- by write-in.

If voters learned a week before election day that a candidate with no opposition was, for some reason, unfit to hold office, they would have no recourse. They might wait until after the candidate was declared the winner and then impeach him, but that is a cumbersome process.

The law needs to have a contingency for a write-in campaign no matter what the circumstances. The state should not prevent voters from electing a write-in candidate if that is the will of the electorate.

This is not the first time this issue has arisen. Last year, Great Falls Mayor H.C. "Speedy" Starnes got a free pass to serve another term when no one challenged him. Critics at the time complained that the law foreclosed the option of an 11th-hour challenge.

The likelihood that a write-in challenge could have succeeded against Starnes or any of the uncontested candidates Tuesday was slim. Still, voters should have had the prerogative to select another candidate even at the last minute.

State lawmakers can find better ways to help cities save money. This law should be changed.

IN SUMMARY

Voters should have the option of last-minute write-in campaigns in uncontested races.

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