Absentee vote bill needed before Feb. 29

Absentee vote bill needed before Feb. 29

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Contrary to the impression you've gotten if your life revolves around social media and cable "news," the world did not come to an end because the results from the Iowa Democratic caucuses were delayed.

Feb. emphasis on black history should continue

But the delay did provide some valuable reminders to us here in South Carolina, and to people across the country who are grappling with how (or whether) to bring voting into the instant-gratification-smartphone era.

First and most obviously, delayed results give critics (and who isn't a critic these days?) an easy opening to trash the state where the delay occurred — and ammunition to argue that the state doesn't deserve any special status.

That's certainly a concern to partisans in South Carolina, whose first-in-the-South presidential primaries are always under attack from other states. And this year, we're particularly vulnerable, because we face the chance of a delay in our own results in the Feb. 29 Democratic primary. (There's less risk for Republicans because they decided to forgo a GOP presidential primary this year.)

Things get worse before getting better

The problem isn't that this will be the first large test of South Carolina's new paper-based voting system; municipal elections in November went off well. The problem is that a state law written for electronic voting machines means it'll take a long time to count the new paper absentee ballots. If there's heavy absentee voting like in previous elections, we might not know who won until the next day.

S.867 would fix that problem, by allowing election officials to remove absentee ballots from sealed envelopes beginning the morning before voting, so it'll be a quick matter of feeding them into counting machines on primary day. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill a week ago, but it still has to clear the full Senate, and a House subcommittee, and full committee, and the full House. In the 11 legislative days before Feb. 29.

That's something that needs to happen. There are reasons to question whether Iowa, New Hampshire and, yes, even South Carolina deserve their early voting status. But if we lose that status, it should be based on considerations about the fairest and most effective way to conduct the primaries, not because of a completely avoidable, self-inflicted wound.

The Iowa delay — dubbed by at least one publication — also reminded us of how dangerous it is to assume that new technology is always an improvement. It appears that there were several problems in Iowa, but many of them involved a new mobile app that Iowa Democrats selected in an effort to make it quicker and easier (and, no doubt, more "modern") to report caucus results. Oops.

Let us show them how far we have come

Maybe it was simply a coding issue. Maybe the program was poorly designed. Maybe the problem was that caucus leaders didn't follow instructions to download and practice on the program in advance. Whatever the cause, the program didn't work like it was supposed to — which means it clearly wasn't vetted and tested like it should have been.

It's unlikely that something like this would happen in South Carolina because we don't allow political parties to run the presidential primary elections. The poor judgment shown by Iowa Democrats just adds to the mountain of reasons our Legislature was right a dozen years ago to stop relying on the parties and turn the presidential primaries over to the State Election Commission.

Now, lawmakers just need to give the Election Commission the legal authority it needs to count the votes in a timely manner.

This editorial is from The Post and Courier of Charleston via The Associated Press.

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