The South Carolina LP’s Battle Over James Smith

During the first week of August, James Smiththe Democratic Candidate for Governor of South Carolina, filed to seek the nomination of the state’s Green, Libertarian, and Working Families parties.

South Carolina allows fusion tickets, meaning a candidate for one party could also become the nominee for another party. As a result, they get their name listed on the ballot multiple times. Though on August 3rd, he withdrew from seeking the Libertarian Party’s nomination, his relations with the party didn’t end there.

A Firm Vote of Disapproval

The South Carolina Libertarian Party already had planned an executive meeting for that Saturday, August 4th. Despite James Smith withdrawing his filing the day before, South Carolina LP Chairman Stewart Flood, along with the rest of the party’s leadership, decided to hold a vote on his possible nomination to ensure that they would be safe from any possible violations of state law that could shut the party down.

Party leadership was also under the impression, from their conversations with election officials, that Smith could not withdraw from seeking party nominations that late into the process. However, South Carolina election law states that the deadline for gaining ballot access through a political party was March 30th and that any additional nominations by other parties would come on August 15th. Smith already had ballot access via the Democratic Party. So, third-party nominations were still in play up until the August 15th deadline.

When I asked Alex Thornton, Vice Chairwoman of the South Carolina Libertarian Party, if she believed that the state officials lied to party leadership, she replied, “I don’t want to use the word lie, because I think that the state is so bloated and so big that they can’t keep their stories straight.”

South Carolina is a “sore loser” state, meaning that a candidate cannot be on the ballot for a race if any party denies the candidate a nomination, even if he or she receives another party’s nomination.

When the vote concluded, it was clear that the LP did not support James Smith. In fact, all 16 of the present county representatives voted for “None Of The Above”.

A Legal Case Against James Smith

After those events unfolded, the party waited to see the South Carolina Election Commission’s response. The commission met and decided that they would not disqualify Smith from continuing to run.

In regards to holding the vote on Smith’s nomination, Shane Sweeny, Second Vice Chairman of the state’s LP, stated, “The law reads that he should not have been allowed to withdraw, forcing our hand to vote. The election commission assured us that he couldn’t withdraw, contrary to their public statements and actions.”

The most vocal critic against the Smith incident was Matt Wavle, Chairman of the Greenville County Libertarian Party. In a guest opinion piece for Being Libertarian, Wavle laid out the events that unfolded and what he believes should have actually happened.

The Unwavering Critic

Wavle states in his article that the voting county representatives “[claimed] to represent libertarians from all over South Carolina, but who actually only represent at best 16 out of 46 counties and are in number less than one out of every 3,000 of us.” It is important to note that he was not at the meeting to represent his county.

In the article, Wavle also states that “a good person doesn’t ask if something is legal or illegal, they ask rather, is this right or wrong.” He then proceeds to quote the Libertarian pledge, which is, “I hereby certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals.”

In a section of his article titled “Excuses Run Wild”, Wavle writes, “‘But the ‘Sore Loser Law’ is not our fault, it merely exists, and we’re all subject to it.’ While that is true, couldn’t the exact same thing be said of all illegitimate laws, and their unlawful enforcement?” Essentially, Wavle makes the case against obeying the law because of its legal status. This point is common among libertarians.

A Firm Response

Both Vice Chairwoman Thornton and Second Vice Chairman Sweeny stated that they do not support South Carolina’s “Sore Loser” laws. Thornton, as well as County Representative Matt Hicks, insisted that the possible removal of James Smith from the ballot was a “side effect” of the actions taken that day.

Thornton and Sweeny also stated that the primary motive for holding the vote was to ensure that the South Carolina Libertarian Party would be safe from any legal action. They also affirm that they chose “None Of The Above” for a reason. The party did not want a nominee that supports policies that require violence to enforce.

Matt Wavle believes that the South Carolina LP should have recognized James Smith’s right to withdraw. Similarly, they should not have shot down his nomination.

James Smith: A Second Nomination?

However, this could have created an interesting situation. What if the party did indeed support his right to withdraw? A couple of days afterward, James Smith could have sought the nomination again.

The party was lucky enough already to have their executive committee meet after he sought their nomination. If he did seek it again, the party would have to meet the August 15th deadline or risk legal consequences. And given the willingness of the state to hinder third parties, such a reality would not be surprising. Can the party say they did the right thing in this scenario?

The author states that the actions of the party were “a bit like shooting your neighbor’s dog, because the cops shot your dog, and then claiming it was somehow in self-defense since it wouldn’t be fair unless we were all equally oppressed.” Matt Hicks believes that this comparison is inaccurate and that in the terms of shooting a dog, “that dog came into our yard and started biting at people.” James Smith did not have communications with the Libertarian Party beforehand. He also did not attend the party meeting to vouch for himself.

Hicks also states that “the author suggests that we can shake our fists at the sky and that the laws would be changed by people finding out about it that way.” The South Carolina Libertarian Party made statewide news with their choice to not nominate James Smith. It moreover brought attention to the state’s “sore loser” laws. This may have impacted a major party candidate, which would have surely started a discussion of the law’s validity.

Wavle’s Misguided Action

Throughout his article, Wavle links 7 pieces of text, 3 of which are links to personal Facebook pages. Towards the end of the article, he states, “Every individual must ask: are the principles of liberty currently being properly represented by those claiming to represent the ‘party of liberty‘? If liberty and the party of liberty don’t match up, which one ought to change?” He then proceeds to link to a Facebook page representing himself.

Wavle wrote this piece against the South Carolina Libertarian Party, entirely with secondhand knowledge of the events that occurred. In fact, it looks more like an advertisement of Wavle’s organizations masqueraded behind a misguided crusade of principle.

Both Matt Wavle and the leaders of the state Libertarian Party are at fault here. Matt Wavle did not back up his statements with the opinions of the leadership of the SCLP. If he had done so, he would have recognized that election officials misled party leadership. Neither the chair nor vice chair had any ill intent in their actions at the meeting.

The leaders of the SCLP trusted the opinions of election officials and did not read up on fusion ticket laws. Had they done so, they would have realized that James Smith could indeed withdraw. However, by voting “None Of The Above”, the party did take the safe route. In doing so, they ensured that the only party that supports liberty could stay around longer. Though they supported the state temporarily, the South Carolina LP cemented their future to fight for liberty.

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