Around the country, voters are casting ballots in the midterm election. Not so in South Carolina, at least by a formal early-voting process.
State lawmakers to date have not made a change in election law to authorize early voting. Despite arguments that casting ballots up to a month before Election Day further opens the voting process and makes for shorter lines and a smoother operation, early-voting proposals have fallen victim to bigger battles over voter identification requirements. And there is also the stated belief by lawmakers that early voting, particularly in June primaries, puts them at a disadvantage with time to campaign after the end of the legislative session.
Critics of early voting also contend no voter should cast a ballot until the campaign is complete, as seemingly every day brings new revelations that could impact a person’s decision.
It’s hard to see South Carolina in the long term not joining the early-voting majority. But in the meantime, state law does not require that all voters wait until Election Day to cast ballots. In South Carolina, voting by absentee ballot is de facto early voting.
The eligibility requirements to vote absentee are not stringent, and obtaining a ballot to do so really amounts to simply making a request.
Persons qualified to vote by absentee ballot are:
1. Members of the armed forces or merchant marine serving outside their county of residence and their spouses and dependents residing with them.
2. Persons serving with the American Red Cross or with the United Service Organizations who are attached to and serving with the armed forces outside their county of residence and their spouses and dependents residing with them.
3. Overseas citizens.
4. Persons who are physically disabled.
5. Students attending school outside their county of residence and their spouses and dependents residing with them.
6. Persons who for reasons of employment will not be able to vote on Election Day.
7. Government employees serving outside their county of residence on Election Day and their spouses and dependents residing with them.
8. Persons who plan to be on vacation outside their county of residence on Election Day.
9. Persons serving as a juror in state or federal court on Election Day.
10. Persons admitted to the hospital as emergency patients on Election Day or within a four-day period before the election.
11. Persons with a death or funeral in the family within three days before the election.
12. Persons confined to a jail or pre-trial facility pending disposition of arrest or trial.
13. Persons attending sick or physically disabled persons.
14. Certified poll watchers, poll managers and county election officials working on Election Day.
15. Persons 65 years of age or older.
16. Persons who for religious reasons do not want to vote on a Saturday (presidential primaries only).
Just about everyone can find a reason to fit into one of the categories if he or she chooses. But the person still must make the effort to obtain the absentee ballot.
That means visiting the county voter registration office in your county of residence to complete an application and cast your ballot. You may vote absentee in person up until 5 p.m. on the day before the election. Rules for photo ID apply.
To vote absentee by mail, you can request an application for yourself or an immediate family member from the county voter registration office in your county of residence by phone, mail, email or fax. You then will be mailed an application.
A person may also get the application online at https://info.scvotes.sc.gov/eng/voterinquiry/VoterInformationRequest.aspx?PageMode=AbsenteeRequest. It must then be printed.
Once the application is either received by mail or printed, it must be completed, signed and returned to the county voter registration office. It must be returned no later than 5 p.m. on the fourth day prior to the election (the fourth day is Friday for all Tuesday elections). You may return the application by mail, email, fax or personal delivery.
When the ballot is received by mail, it is to be completed and returned to the county voter registration office by 7 p.m. on the day of the election.
If you for some reason cannot vote on Election Day, take steps now to get your ballot and cast it early by the absentee method.