[Guest post from Lynn Teague, LWVSC VP for Issues and Action]
No one should have to risk their health in order to vote. However, if nothing changes, that is what will be asked of the majority of voters in South Carolina on November 3. Current law requires most voters and the workers who assist them to congregate in large numbers in confined spaces on Election Day. Every reputable expert believes that the pandemic will continue to be a significant danger in November. Every voter should nevertheless be able to vote safely. It is contrary to good sense to compel voters to gather in polling places on one day, where maintaining social distancing will be very difficult and the potential for contagion high.
The Executive Director of the State Election Commission (SEC), Marci Andino, has warned South Carolina’s government leaders that major changes are urgently needed. The organization representing South Carolina’s local election officials, SCARE, also has warned that unless changes are made there will be “devastating consequences.” The League of Women Voters of South Carolina strongly supports these pleas for help from the people who help us vote. The General Assembly must act, and the Governor must support legislators in doing so. They must do so as soon as possible to give both election officials and voters time to plan and to carry out those plans. It is great that Senate President Peeler has recalled the Senate to work on these issues on September 2. However, the House remains scheduled not to return until mid-September, when they might or might not make the needed changes. That is very late to leave this great uncertainty about basic aspects of election process.
The impact of the November 2020 voting process will be felt far beyond the election itself. Retaining current high-risk procedures would represent a grave and unnecessary challenge to efforts to restore normalcy in South Carolina. Election Day could become a “super-spreader event” that would adversely affect businesses, schools, and other basic social functions.
The General Assembly needs to make these basic changes that are consistent with requests from our election officials:
- Reinstate the “state of emergency” reason for absentee voting, allowing every voter to choose to vote absentee-by-mail, early in person, or in person on election day.
- Allow voters to apply online for an absentee ballot.
- Remove the witness requirement for absentee ballot return envelopes.
- Allow use of secure drop boxes for return of absentee ballots at protected locations other than election offices, for example, public libraries or town halls.
- Provide election officials with more time (as much as possible ) to process absentee-by-mail ballots and extend the date by which counties must certify the results of the election.
Regrettably, voting issues are too often embroiled in partisan politics. That should not be the case here. Both of our country’s major national political parties are energetically encouraging their voters to vote early and even specifically to vote absentee by mail. Independent studies show no inherent partisan bias in voting methods. Reputable sources also show that instances of fraud from voting absentee-by-mail are extremely rare. All voting methods require security precautions, but South Carolina’s election officials have abundant experience ensuring the security of the absentee voting methods that are requested for our 2020 elections.
We hope that the General Assembly and the Governor will take action as soon as possible to make sound decisions in time for the November elections, as they did for the June primaries.
However, time is of the essence. In the absence of legislative action as of August 20, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina has filed an amicus brief in the case of Duggins v. Lucas, for which the South Carolina Supreme Court has granted original jurisdiction. We hope that the courts will act to do what the legislature has not.
Our November 2020 elections must be true to the best in our American beliefs and traditions – safe, secure, and accessible to all qualified citizens.
Lynn Shuler Teague, Vice President for Issue and Action
League of Women Voters of South Carolina