COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The eight candidates for the vacated District II seat on Columbia City Council met Monday night for what they thought would be a final forum before Tuesday's city-wide election.
But a federal court ruling Monday afternoon will likely block the April 6 District II election if the Department of Justice does not pre-clear the election in time.
The three-judge federal appeals panel ruled in favor of retired University of South Carolina law professor Katharine Butler, who filed the lawsuit late last week.
Butler argued Tuesday's District II election violated parts of the federal Voting Rights Act.
"I felt that the voters of District II weren't going to get the same opportunity to participate in this election as the residents of the rest of the city," said Butler. "I was fairly sure that the Voting Rights Act didn't permit the city to proceed as it was attempting to proceed. There didn't seem to be anyone else who was prepared to step up to make the arguments."
The April 6 date had already been challenged once in the state courts and once in front of the State Supreme Court, which upheld the date.
Each candidate and several voters seemed disappointed to hear of the election's potential delay, considering the on-again-off-again drama that has plagued the campaign.
"This is a blow to families and communities in District II," said Josh Stroman.
With the delay, the candidates will have to spend more money and more time knocking on doors to get their message out.
"Financially this will be a big blow to me," said Alex Furgess. "And to every other person that's running."
Some are worried voters will be confused.
"One date's announced and then another date is announced and you know, on-again-off-again," said retired Lt. Col. Gary Myers.
"I'm hoping that people won't get confused, won't get sidetracked, they'll go to the polls," said Emma McGraw Myers.
Adam Nagler showed up at a forum to get a final look at the field.
While the postponement gives voters like Nagler more time to make a decision, he's concerned about the extra time his neighborhood will go without a representative.
"When we had E.W. Cromartie, we had a problem, we'd call E.W.'s office, and the problem was at least looked into, if not taken care of right away," said Nagler. "Now we have nobody to call."
Milton Kimpson is worried he'll be unrepresented in the city's upcoming budget discussion.
"Anytime you don't have a representative and you're talking about budgets and so forth, it's going to be bad," said Kimpson.
Jason Brown says for this reason, his vote for mayor and the at-large councilmember is even more important now.
"It's gonna take some more thought now because this at-large is gonna represent my district until we get somebody in there," said Brown.
Although it is unlikely to happen considering the waning hours of the day, the Justice Department's pre-clearance could overrule the federal court's ruling.
Mayor Bob Coble said city council will likely reschedule District II election for July at the earliest. He says the city's budget is approved in June and goes into effect July 1, so District II will not have a representative in that process.
The District II seat was recently vacated by Councilman E.W. Cromartie, who resigned in late March after pleading guilty to federal tax evasion charges.
Despite the District II election delay, voters in that district still have the chance to vote in the mayor's race and the at-large city council race.