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More S.C. lawmakers call for voting changes as virus spreads

More lawmakers are joining the call to create a statewide vote-by-mail system

COLUMBIA, S.C. — This weekend, Senators Brad Hutto, Thomas McElveen, and Marlon Kimpson, all Democrats, wrote a letter to Governor McMaster.

The letter urges him to implement voting by mail and expand access to absentee voting in time for the June primaries. They suggest an ease of absentee voting required excuses, access to ballots online, and mailing ballots to every voter.

Representatives Beth Bernstein and Leon Stavrinakis, both Democrats, along with Senator McElveen wrote a similar letter at the end of March.

“Since we're dealing with this pandemic, this incredible crisis we're dealing with as a country, and the uncertainty of where we're going to be come November, I think it's only prudent we start making, and considering, and preparing for the election, particularly in November,” Rep. Bernstein said on video call.

Bernstein's letter, specifically, calls for voting by mail in the November general election. It also asks the Governor to allow people to access their ballots online, something usually reserved for the military and overseas voters.

Lastly, it urges the Governor, only as a minimum, to expand absentee in-person voting and make it more accessible in-person or by-mail.

“I'm also concerned about poll workers. We've had issues in Richland County and across the state in finding poll workers. Typically, the poll workers tend to be mature age, which is a more vulnerable risk to COVID-19, a more fatal risk I should say, cause we're all at risk of getting it,” Bernstein added.

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Senator Kimpson first asked the state to consider a vote-by-mail change at the end of March.

Kimpson, Bernstein, and other lawmakers said the state needs to make sure people can access their right to vote while remaining safe.

In a statement, the State Election Commission said in part, "The SEC has no authority to deviate from the way elections are currently prescribed by law to be conducted.  We are proceeding with preparing to conduct the June Primaries as scheduled unless and until ordered to do otherwise."

So far, Governor McMaster nor the General Assembly have announced a change to the state’s elections in June or November.

Last month, the Commission sent a letter to the Governor, Speaker of the House, and Senate President urging them to consider changes.

The 4-page letter asks them to consider a few options:

  • Easier access to absentee voting: includes adding ‘no excuse’ as a reason to vote, allowing online application requests, and removes witness signatures for mail-in ballot returns. It also would expand the ability to access ballots online for healthcare professionals and first responders.
  • Vote-by-mail: the SEC would send ballots to every registered voter, voters could mail them back or drop-off at locations before election day. Some polls would have to be open for voters with special accessibility needs, last-minute voters, and other circumstances
  • Create early-voting in South Carolina for the first time: this would spread out voters over several weeks, instead of one day. It also would allow the SEC to open and maintain a few county locations, instead of widespread polling places leading up to the election