Bill allows absentee voting for all in the state
By Samantha Lyles
All South Carolina voters now have the option to request mail-in ballots, thanks to a bill recently passed by the S.C. House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Henry McMaster.
This amended bill (H.5305) expands our state’s list of acceptable reasons for voting absentee to include concerns over COVID-19, which means any voter can cite the pandemic as a valid reason for requesting a mail-in ballot.
“We are still under a declared state of emergency, and this bill authorizes absentee voting for all qualified electors residing or voting in an area that is subject to that declared state of emergency,” explains Sen. Gerald Malloy (D – District 29), who co-sponsored the amended bill.
The bill only authorizes this new criteria for the 2020 general election on Nov. 3, just as a previous amendment only allowed COVID-19 exceptions for absentee voting in the June primary.
The process to vote absentee in South Carolina was already one of the easiest in the nation, with registered voters required to meet just one of many qualifying conditions, such as being unable to vote due to work obligations, having a disability, or being age 65 or older. A complete list of qualifications is available at www.scvotes.gov/absentee-voting.
“The biggest change here is that you’re able to vote by absentee ballot because of COVID-19. … During this time, our lives have changed. People have slowed down, they have stayed inside, we have practiced social distancing, and it is suggested that we wear masks. There are many things we need to do to protect the safety of our voters, while at the same time allowing and encouraging the process of voting,” Malloy says.
Hoyt Campbell, director of Darlington County Elections and Registrations, says that those who wish to vote absentee can contact his office and request an application, which they must sign, date, and return.
A ballot will be mailed to that voter, which they can fill out and mail back in its own sealed envelope. These votes are checked in, removed from their outer envelopes, and stored in a locked ballot box until Election Day. This inner envelope bears no identification, so the voter’s anonymity is preserved.
He expects to send out about 3,000 absentee ballots in the initial mailing, which should occur by the first week of October. If this trend continues, Darlington County might double the total of mail-in votes cast in 2016.
The amended H-5305 includes some changes to give voters adequate time to get their ballots in, and to help election officials process the expected high number of absentee ballots.
Now absentee ballot requests via mail must be received by Oct. 24 at 5 p.m., in-person absentee ballot requests submitted by a person’s representative must be received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 30, and in-person absentee ballot requests must be made by 5 p.m. Nov. 2.
The amended bill allows for absentee ballots to be dropped off at satellite offices, and allows state and local election commissions to begin to process and empty return-addressed envelopes at 7 a.m. Nov. 1. The ballots won’t be opened until 7 a.m. Election Day, but this early sorting will give them a head start on the tabulating process.
If you need to request a mail-in absentee ballot, contact Darlington County Elections and Registrations at 843-398-4900, or write to them at 131 Cashua St., Darlington SC 29532.