So far, in the 2012 South Carolina election season, questions regarding the constitutionality of many decisions regarding the elections have marred the primaries. Most of these questions and decisions centered around candidates and whether or not they would appear on the June primary ballots and, if not on the primary ballot, how could they still appear on the November election ballot. According to David Wren in The Sun News, “The court ruled that all non-incumbent candidates must file two documents – their Statement of Intention of Candidacy and Statement of Economic Interests – at the same time with their local party office.” If not, those people would have to run as petition candidates in the November election.
However, candidates that found they could get on the November ballots as “petition” candidates have encountered another hurdle in getting petitions signed by the right voters. The candidates had to make sure they had the right maps delineating the proper district lines that the candidates represented. This year, thanks to the 2010 census, South Carolina, as well as most states throughout the country, went through a process called redistricting. As defined at the website, All About Redistricting, “Redistricting is the way in which we adjust the districts that determine who represents us.” Starting in the mid-1960’s, the Supreme Court decided that legislative district boundaries should periodically be adjusted to account for any changes in population density. This is now done after the census, which is done every 10 years.
In South Carolina, the job of adjusting those boundaries is given to the state Senate and House of Representatives. At All About Redistricting, they explain that these legislative bodies must follow certain criteria (equal population; district lines that don’t deny minority voters an equal opportunity to participate; communities of interest and core groups be maintained where possible). This same website goes on to explain the South Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee holds many public meetings throughout the state to get input from the population before it makes its final redistricting decisions.
In both of these cases, whether it’s the courts making a constitutionality decision or state legislatures making a redistricting decision, it is our right as citizens and newsgatherers to access government proceedings, according to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: ”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In The 2011 Associated Press Stylebook (p. 383), James Madison is quoted as saying the following about government: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” According to The 2011 Associated Press Stylebook (p. 383), the First Amendment applies to us as citizens and journalists because it gives us “the right to attend official proceedings, including court trials, hearings, and the meetings of some legislative bodies and administrative agencies. Access rights also extend to the inspection of documents held by the government, with only specific exceptions” (The Associated Press Stylebook, 2011, p. 383).
Johnnie Bellamy, chairperson of the Horry County Republican Party, said, “We need to know what’s going on in government so that we’re not being taken advantage of and to ensure that laws are being enforced equally and that we have equal protection under the law.” She stated she has been going to state Senate hearings for years, especially when the Senate has been discussing bills that would be enacted into laws. She said she has even testified at Senate hearings. Bellamy went on to say, “Even though voters should have a knowledge of what’s going on, there is an apathy in our country, and it doesn’t matter if we have access to information, because so much is still being done behind closed doors.”
Bellamy said, “In other words, because so much is still being done behind closed doors, voters should have a knowledge of what’s going on.” In 1980, when the Supreme Court was ruling for the first time about what exactly the First Amendment covered, the court found “a major purpose of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, a free press and the right to petition the government is the public’s need to know what the government is up to, if democracy is to function…The court concluded that the First Amendment implies a right of the public to certain information concerning the direct exercise of government power” (The Associated Press Stylebook, 2011, p. 384).