Perhaps the most fundamental right that we have as Americans is our right, and duty, to vote. Our representative republic demands participation of the people. The people, in turn, must be confident of secure and fair elections. The COVID-19 pandemic has added another factor normally not overly considered, safety.
With this in mind, the South Carolina Senate met in special session on September 2, 2020 and unanimously (41-0) passed legislation to conduct safe and secure elections. In short, for those concerned about exposure to COVID-19, the legislation allows for no-excuse absentee voting for all qualified voters and expands the time provided to local election commissions to deliver, receive, verify, and tabulate ballots. All this, while maintaining the integrity of the election process and delivering results on election day.
What The Bill Does:
- Allows all qualified electors to vote by absentee ballot
- Allows absentee ballots may be cast in one of two methods, absentee by mail or in-person absentee.
- Voters who wish to vote by absentee ballot by mail, must request the ballot no later than 10 days before the election (October 24). This change is an effort to ensure there is sufficient time for the county to mail the ballot to the voter and for the voter to return the ballot by election day. If a voter wants to go to the office and request an absentee ballot in person, he/she may do that no later than Friday, October 30. If a voter wants to vote in-person absentee, he/she may do that until Monday, the day before the election.
- Allows absentee voters to return their ballots in-person to the voter registration office or to any satellite voting location in the county. This change ensures voters have more options to return absentee ballots, but it also protects against ballot harvesting and unsecured drop boxes because election commission staff must confirm the identity of the person returning the ballot and the ballot must be stored in a locked box inside the office.
- In-person absentee voting will begin statewide on October 5, 2020. This change allows for 4 weeks of in-person absentee voting and makes the date consistent statewide.
- Allows county election commissions to begin opening the outer envelopes of returned absentee ballots at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, November 1. They may begin removing the ballots from the inner envelopes and running those ballots through the scanners at 7:00 a.m. on election day. This change should speed up the counting of absentee ballots to ensure counties can report election results on Tuesday night while also ensuring that ballots are not revealed before election day.
- The State Election Commission and county board of elections must provide extensive public notice of the absentee voting process as set forth in the legislation, train poll managers and workers on the changes addressed in the legislation, conduct educational programs, and encourage social distancing at the polling locations.
- The provisions of the legislation apply to the 2020 General Election on November 3, 2020.
The Bill Doesn't Do:
- The bill does not permit drop boxes or other unsecured voting drop off locations for absentee ballots.
- The bill does not allow election officials to mail ballots to all voters. There must be an absentee request.
- The bill does not change the process for absentee ballot applications to be requested electronically online.
- The bill does not waive the required witness signature requirement on the absentee application.
- The bill does not permit county board of elections or State Election Commission to view absentee ballots or release absentee results before election day.
- The bill does not create a single curbside voting location. Curbside voting remains at the precinct as in current law.
- The bill does not change permanent law.