Drive begins to help ousted primary candidates

There's a new effort underway to support those candidates whose names have been left off South Carolina's primary ballot.

The grassroots drive comes after about 180 candidates were disqualified by a May 2 state Supreme Court decision. Justices ruled the candidates didn't properly file statements of economic interest when they filed to run.

The new effort to aid those candidates is called Operation Lost Vote and it's being led by Tea Party activists and other grassroots political groups around the state.

The group's leaders held press conferences in Conway, Charleston, Columbia, Spartanburg and Aiken to announce their effort to provide volunteers to help the ousted candidates gather signatures for petition drives.

In Conway, the leader of a group called RINO Hunt - for Republicans In Name Only - joined some of the ousted candidates from Horry County Monday to denounce what they said was a deliberate effort by powerful leaders in Columbia to keep certain people off the state primary ballot.

"I think it was absolutely on purpose," said Greenville businessman and RINO Hunt founder Harry Kibler.

Many of those candidates who joined Kibler said they weren't given the right information from party leaders about how to file the statements of economic interest and they said state and even federal officials should investigate how that happened.

"My question is, where is the accountability and where is the election commission on this?" asked Mike Connett, who had filed to run for South Carolina House District 105 before his name was removed from the ballot.

Other ousted candidates said the ballot mess is worthy of a federal investigation.

"It's time for the Justice Department to come into South Carolina and look at this. There were too many things that went wrong," said former Horry County council candidate Mary Henry.

Leaders of Operation Lost Vote say they would prefer the legislature pass a measure allowing ousted candidates to be placed on the June ballot, but they don't trust state lawmakers to fix the problem.

"The people that I do trust are the people out here, the voters in South Carolina, when they understand the injustice that has happened," Kibler said.

The disqualified candidates will collect signatures on petition drives to get their names on the November ballot as independents.

"As long as we have a small army I think we can do it, we can get the numbers out there and we can get on the ballot and then it's just a matter of fairness," Henry said.

Some candidates had held out hope that a federal lawsuit filed by Columbia attorney Todd Kincannon would provide a last-second fix for the ballot problem, but the suit was thrown out by a three judge panel after a one hour hearing Monday.

Kincannon said he would pursue other suits in wake of the state Supreme Court ruling.