Supreme Court Issues Order Regarding Richland County Election Case
The Supreme Court issues an order denying as moot the petition for extraordinary writs regarding the Richland County Election Case.
The Supreme Court of South Carolina
South Carolina Republican Party, Petitioner,
South Carolina Election Commission, The Honorable Jeanette W. McBride, in her official capacity as Richland County Clerk of Court; South Carolina Democratic Party; Richland County Election Commission, Respondents.
Appellate Case No. 2012-213345
On November 8, 2012, the circuit court issued a temporary restraining order in South Carolina Democratic Party v. Richland County Election Commission, Civil Action 2012-CP-40-07551. This order required SLED to seize and retain all electronic disks from voting machines and all paper ballots cast in Richland County. In addition, the South Carolina Election Commission (State Commission) was ordered to conduct a countywide recount of all ballots and all races and an audit.
Petitioners seek a writ of prohibition to direct the circuit court to cease its improper exercise of jurisdiction over the issues involving elections for legislative seats and an injunction to prohibit the State Commission from conducting a recount for the House District 75 seat. By order dated November 9, 2012, this Court stayed the order of the circuit court requiring the recount until we could rule on the petition for writs of prohibition and injunction.
Jeanette W. McBride has filed a return opposing the petition and asking to be dismissed as a party. The South Carolina Democratic Party has filed a return asking the Court to dismiss this matter as moot since it has dismissed the action in the circuit court. The Richland County Election Commission (County Commission) has filed a return opposing the petition and a motion to dismiss the matter as moot. The County Commission also asks the Court to extend the time for the County Commission to canvass the votes until 5:00 p.m. on Friday, November 16, 2012. The State Commission asks the Court to set forth new election certification deadlines for the County Commission and the State Commission. Petitioner has filed a return to the motion to dismiss indicating it has no objection to the motion provided the Court confirms there is no legal basis for a recount of the ballots for the House District 75 seat.
Because South Carolina Democratic Party v. Richland County Election Commission, Civil Action 2012-CP-40-07551, has been dismissed, there is no need for this Court to issue either a writ of prohibition or injunction. Accordingly, we deny the petition for writs of prohibition and injunction as moot.
The action before the circuit court involved challenges to elections, and protests should be filed with the State Commission for elections involving federal officers, state officers, members of the State Senate and House, and offices involving more than one county. S.C. Code Ann. § 7-17-260 (Supp. 2011). Protests of the elections of county and less than county offices should be filed with the County Commission. S.C. Code Ann. § 7-17-30 (Supp. 2011). Accordingly, the circuit court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the election protests, and the November 8, 2012 order is void. In re November 4, 2008 Bluffton Town Council Election, 385 S.C. 632, 686 S.E.2d 683 (2009) (a decision issued without subject matter jurisdiction is void). We, therefore, vacate the order of the circuit court. The recount of the ballots in Richland County as required by the order of the circuit court shall not be conducted. This order does not prohibit the County Commission from ordering a recount as required by S.C. Code Ann. § 7-17-280 (Supp. 2011) should the County Commission determine a recount is required by law.
SLED is directed to return the electronic disks from the voting machines and the paper ballots to the County Commission by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 13, 2012. The County Commission shall have until noon on Friday, November 16, 2012, to canvass the votes and transmit the results to the State Commission. The State Commission shall declare the results of the election by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, November 16, 2012. Any challenges to the election results must be filed with the appropriate election commission by noon Wednesday, November 21, 2012.
s/Jean H. Toal C.J.
s/Costa M. Pleicones J.
s/Donald W. Beatty J.
s/John W. Kittredge J.
s/Kaye G. Hearn J.
Columbia, South Carolina
November 13, 2012
J. Robert Bolchoz
Richard A. Harpootlian
Ms. Lillian McBride
Jo Anne Wessinger Hill
Steven W. Hamm
John S. Nichols
Graham L. Newman
M. David Scott
Christopher Phillip Kenney
Alan McCrory Wilson
Robert D. Cook
Julius Carnes Nicholson, III