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SC absentee ballots don't need a witness signature, federal judge rules

U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs ordered the state Election Commission to immediately inform voters about the removal of the requirement.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A federal judge in South Carolina has struck down a rule requiring mail-in absentee ballots for the November election be signed by witnesses.

U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs ordered the state Election Commission to immediately inform voters about the removal of the requirement. Voters in the state usually have to provide a specific reason for voting absentee, such as being 65 or older or having a physical disability. 

Also last week, the South Carolina legislature passed a bill allowing all voters to vote absentee for any reason in a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but an amendment to remove the signature provision failed. Gov. McMaster then signed that bill into law. 

RELATED: SC governor signs absentee voting expansion bill

Last month, South Carolina Elections Commission Executive Director Marci Andino sent a letter to lawmakers, including Peeler, asking for emergency changes to get ready for the general election. She said action must be taken to ensure a smooth election process while also protecting workers and voters at the polls during a pandemic.  

RELATED: 2020 Election Guide: Here's what you need to know

Andino wrote that similar measures used during June's primary elections must be in place during the November election.  She said if they aren't, absentee mail will be overwhelmed, the number of poll managers won't be enough, and it will be difficult to maintain social distancing in the middle of a pandemic.  

In South Carolina, turnout in non-gubernatorial statewide primaries averages 16%, while presidential elections average 71%. In the June primaries, absentee ballots by mail went up 370% compared to 2016 (27,000 to 127,000). Those statistics were included in the letter to lawmakers.