by Sam Spence
Bobby Harrell's guilty plea this morning on state ethics charges may have brought an end to his political and legal troubles, with less than two weeks before Election Day, the complicated process of determining how he will be replaced is just getting started.
One thing is for sure, though, ex-Speaker Harrell's name will remain on the November general election ballot, say Charleston County election officials.
Under the terms of a plea agreement with state prosecutors submitted this morning in which Harrell admitted guilt on six violations of state ethics laws, the former House speaker promised that he would resign his office. Some time today, Harrell, along with state attorneys, will likely draw up the requisite documents handling his resignation from office and withdrawal from the November election.
Harrell faces Democrat Mary Tinkler and Green Party candidate Sue Edward, but with more than 8,100 absentee ballots already requested from the Charleston County Board of Elections, it may be too late for the board to print new ballots.
At this point, it's uncertain whether a special election will be called for immediately, if Harrell's votes will simply be ignored and the second place-vote-getter will be declared the winner, or if local Republicans will field a replacement.
State election law does provide for the replacement of candidates when one withdraws, dies, or is disqualified after ballots are printed, but it's unclear at this time how the state will proceed. One possible scenario under state law would make votes cast for Harrell's name count for another candidate duly nominated to take Harrell's place as the Republican candidate.
State Election Commission spokesperson Chris Whitmire tells The State that the agency is seeking guidance "regarding the application of laws designed for the party to replace their candidate."
Joe Debney, director of the Charleston County Board of Elections says he's never dealt with a case where a candidate withdraws between the time ballots are set and Election Day in his time with the county.