We aren’t convinced that people should be able to vote over the internet or that our state should mail ballots to voters who haven’t asked for them — or even mail applications to people who haven’t asked for them, although some counties do make requesting an absentee ballot more cumbersome than it needs to be. We haven’t heard a good reason to change state law to let people vote the day they register to vote.
But there’s no good reason to make most voters under age 65 stand in long lines on Election Day in order to participate in our democratic republic. And there’s no good reason to squander our valuable tax dollars buying enough voting machines and hiring enough poll workers to eliminate long lines.
Not when we have such a safe and easy alternative, which has worked without significant problems for decades for everyone 65 and older, along with people who are sick, out of town or meet one of a handful of other special exceptions for casting an absentee ballot.
Indeed, we have a hard time defending a system that allows people to cast an absentee ballot because they decide to go on vacation on Election Day while denying that option to people who could risk losing their job if they wait too long in line to vote — or who have to give up their right to vote because the line is so long that they have to leave to pick up their kids before their child-care center closes.
For years now, the S.C. House and Senate have agreed that we need to allow all registered voters to cast absentee ballots, and they’ve been passing bills to allow that. It just wasn’t enough of a priority for the two bodies to agree on the details.
The pandemic changed that, at least temporarily, as the Legislature opened absentee voting to all registered voters and not just those who were old, sick or out of town on Election Day.
And it worked spectacularly: No one alleged, even without evidence, that South Carolina’s voting was tinged by fraud. Expanded absentee voting didn’t cause massive technical problems. South Carolinians clearly liked the idea, with half of all the votes cast before Election Day. And that meant polling places were less crowded and waits were much shorter for those who preferred to cast their ballots in person on Election Day.
The great absentee voting experiment of 2020 also demonstrated that making voting easier isn’t the gift to Democrats that some Republicans feared — at least not in South Carolina. The GOP picked up seats in both the House and the Senate, and in Congress, and throughout much of the state.
So it should be no surprise that the Legislature is once again considering bills to expand early voting opportunities, one by Orangeburg Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter and another Beaufort County Republican Rep. Weston Newton.
Neither bill is perfect.
Cobb-Hunter's bill includes some of those provisions we aren’t convinced are necessary, such as allowing same-day registration and requiring the state to mail out ballots to all registered voters. Newton's bill is less generous than it should be about how many absentee voting sites some counties could operate, and it greatly reduces the allowable reasons for casting mail-in absentee ballots, which means people aged 65 to 74 or who are caring for sick relatives or attending funerals or who have to be out of town on Election Day could only cast in-person absentee ballots.
The good news is that between them, the two bills contain all the elements we need for a voting law that removes unnecessary restrictions to voting, holds down the cost of elections and provides reasonable protections against fraud.
The House panel considering the bills would do well to amend one the bills to allow no-excuses absentee voting by mail or in person, just like we had in the 2020 elections, and to allow counties to open multiple (although not unlimited) in-person voting sites. We’ve spent too long arguing over the details while South Carolinians waste time waiting in too-long lines to exercise their most important civic duty.
This is an abridged version of an editorial from The Post and Courier of Charleston.