South Carolina lawmakers made adjustments in the absentee voting process for the June political primaries and runoff elections. Every voter in the state was eligible to cast an absentee ballot and the requirement for a witness signature on return envelopes was waived amid the coronavirus pandemic and the danger of people flocking to polling places.
Ahead of November’s general election, the S.C. Supreme Court is being asked via voter petition to mandate electoral steps beyond just opening up absentee voting to all. Also being sought are curbside sites for early voting and online absentee applications. Legislative leaders have formally asked the high court to dismiss the petition and leave it to the General Assembly to address election issues.
A filing by House Speaker Jay Lucas urges the court to “recognize and acknowledge that the legislative branch is responsible for addressing issues regarding changes to this State’s election laws. The General Assembly can address these issues when it returns to the State House next month.”
We agree. The General Assembly will be back in September and should be given the opportunity to make any changes in election law. And some changes will be needed amid a continuing coronavirus emergency.
For its part, the S.C. Election Commission, which is also opposed to the voter petition before the court, has proposed changes for the November election.
A July 17 letter from Marci Andino, executive director, outlined recommendations to state leaders:
- Reinstating the “state of emergency” reason allowing every voter the option to vote absentee.
- Allowing voters to apply for an absentee ballot online.
- Remove the witness requirement for absentee return envelopes. The SCEC has already announced that it will provide postage-paid envelopes for voters to return their ballots.
- Allow the use of drop boxes for the 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.
If the proposals read a lot like the ones being sought by those petitioning the court, they are. But the key is that leaders elected to make the state’s laws would have to be the ones deciding on whether any or all of the changes are needed.
In making accommodations, lawmakers should strongly weigh the statement of South Carolina’s AARP leader, Teresa Arnold, in supporting the Election Commission recommendations:
“We must make unprecedented measures to ensure that every eligible voter can safely exercise their right to vote in the Nov. 3, 2020, election without the fear of contracting COVID-19. Older South Carolina residents should not have fear risking their lives or health to vote.”
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