SC senators consider updates to election law for November

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COLUMBIA, SC (WBTW) – South Carolina senators will return for a special session Wednesday to consider updates to election laws that would allow for a safe and secure vote in November.

“Protect the vote and protect the voter,” Sen. Greg Hembree (R – North Myrtle Beach) said. “We need to do whatever we can to make sure folks turn out.”

Lawmakers approved special protections and exceptions to make it easier for South Carolinians to vote in June’s statewide primary. The South Carolina Election Commission says 23% of voters turned out. Officials say that number usually lingers around 13-14%.

Hembree thinks those protections are linked to the higher turnout.

“I do believe there were people that voted that otherwise would not have voted — making it a bit easier,” he says.

The South Carolina Election Commission predicts a voter turnout of 72% or higher for November’s general election. While more people may cast absentee ballots or head to the polls, SCEC Executive Director Marci Andino has already hinted at foreseen problems if absentee voting laws aren’t changed and measures aren’t passed to protect November’s vote.

Those concerns were highlighted in a letter to Sen. Harvey Peeler and Rep. Jay Lucas in July.

“Based on the experiences of state and county election officials conducting the June primaries and the projections for the General Election, we have the following concerns:

  • The absentee-by-mail process will be overwhelmed and overrun if we have in place only the same rule sand provisions placed in June. the opening and counting of absentee-by-mail ballots will require substantially more time to complete, and election results will be significantly delayed.
  • With significantly more voters at the polls in November, social distancing at polling places will become far more difficult, and in some places, will be impossible.
  • Poll manager shortages are expected to be more extreme. More managers will be needed than in June, and with the spread of COVID-19, more managers will be unable to serve.
  • Polling place availability may also be impacted due to the spread of COVID-19.
  • The resulting polling place consolidations will have a far greater impact on voter wait times with the increase in turnout.
  • Increased wait times and fear of COVID-19 will cause unqualified voters to flood the curbside voting process at polling places interfering with its intended purpose of helping voters with disabilities.”

Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the South Carolina Election Commission, says based on calculations from the June primary, South Carolina could see 1.5 million people voting absentee and a million of those choosing to do so by mail.

“The record of absentee-by-mail in the state is 140,000 set in 2016. So a million — meaning you’re talking seven, eight times what we’ve seen in the past,” he explained.

Andino outlined several suggestions for lawmakers to consider, on behalf of the state’s election commission:

  • Reinstate the “state of emergency” reason allowing every voter the option to vote absentee.
  • Allow voters to apply for an absentee ballot online.
  • Remove the witness requirement for absentee return envelopes.
  • Allow use of drop boxes for return of absentee ballots.
  • Provide election officials with more time to process absentee-by-mail ballots or extend the date in which counties must certify the results of the election.
  • Allow curbside voting to take place at designated locations instead of every at polling place.

Sen. Peeler said ahead of the session that the General Assembly addressed primary election issues in a bi-paritsan manner, and is “hopeful we can do it again and return later in September to address the remaining legislative business.”

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