Process to make lawmakers, filling empty seats in State House underway

Process to make lawmakers, filling empty seats in State House underway

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It can be like a game of musical chairs or dominoes inside of the State House.

There are seats left vacant when lawmakers at times change office or resign. With four open seats and a Fifth Congressional District race underway, voters soon head to the polls to select the next person to be their voice in three House seats and a Senate seat. 

On Tuesday, there were primaries to start the process of filling Lt. Governor Kevin Bryant's former senate seat and former Representative Chris Corley's seat. Bryant, a Republican from Anderson County, was promoted from senator in December, ascending to the office of Lt. Governor when Nikki Haley was appointed to President Donald Trump's cabinet and Henry McMaster became governor. Corley, a Republican from Aiken County, resigned from his place in the House in January, after being charged with domestic violence in December. 

Some of Corley's former constituents were out voting on Tuesday, optimistic of what's to come.

"Everybody will feel better about who's representing them," Aiken County voter James Cosnahan said.

Cosnahan would not reveal much on who he voted for, or offer much reaction to the incident that caused Corley to resign.

"Yes, there was a lot of disappointment but things happen and we've just got to go move forward," Cosnahan said.

He is hopeful openings will be filled soon, so constituents can be represented by a voice again. However, that only account for two vacant spots. There's still an open spot where the late Representative Joe Neal served. Neal, a Democrat from Richland County, died in February.

Representative Ralph Norman from York County, resigned to run for Congress in Mick Mulvaney's place since he was confirmed to President Trump's cabinet.

These special elections all come at a price. Election Commission Spokesman Chris Whitmire said a House election costs $35,000, Senate is $85,000, and a Congressional election is $500,000.

"So, it's expensive and that doesn't take into account the cost on the county level," Whitmire said.

From start to finish, Whitmire said the election process lasts about four and a half months. He said the election commission has asked lawmakers to consider allowing them to move around some funds reserved for other projects, to pay for the special elections.

"We're already at the average for special elections which is somewhere around four or five a year, and there's a great potential for more because of the domino effect," Whitmire said.

There are also two lawmakers indicted on ethics charges, as a result of an ongoing investigation into possible corruption in the State House. Representative Jim Merrill (R- Berkeley) and Sen. John Courson (R- Richland) are suspended from serving, but this doesn't mean their seats are vacant.

Whitmire said there can only be an election to replace them once they are open, if that happens. It would require them to resign or for the investigation to conclude in results that do not disqualify them from serving.  

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