by Sam Spence
Voters in Bobby Harrell's old House district will have to head back to the polls to determine their next state representative, state election officials said today.
A vote by the governor-appointed state Election Commission today determined that ex-House Speaker Bobby Harrell's exit from his re-election race came with his disqualification as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors over ethics violations. The determination triggers a provision in state law that requires a special election to be held to replace him on the ballot.
The decision gives local Republicans, who were facing a general election on Tuesday without a viable candidate on the ballot, a chance to field a nominee for a special election in the coming weeks.
Last week, Harrell pleaded guilty to multiple counts of putting campaign money to personal use. As terms of his plea agreement, he must continue as a source for subsequent investigations, resign his post, and is barred from running for office for three years.
Harrell, who was a legislator for more than 20 years, submitted a formal letter of withdrawal last week and a sworn statement that laid out reasons for his withdrawal this week after the state said the election would go forward. But today's the 5-0 vote, in effect, rejected those letters, ruling that he was already disqualified because of his plea agreement.
The District 114 race will appear on ballots Tuesday, but votes cast in the contest between Republican Harrell, Democrat Mary Tinkler, and Green Party nominee Sue Edward won't count.
After the ruling, Tinkler filed an emergency motion with the State Supreme Court to reverse the Election Commission's decision, fighting to move forward with Tuesday's election as planned. A memo filed by her campaign before today's meeting made the case on multiple fronts that Harrell's withdrawal did not warrant a special election. If the decision were overturned, Tinkler and Edward would the only District 114 candidates remaining on the ballot who were eligible to win the election.
Under state law, filing for a special election will open for one week on Tues. Nov. 4 ahead of a special primary to take place on Tues. Nov. 25. A full ruling is expected Friday and will address the timeline of the special election and any necessary runoffs.