During these unprecedented times, we have sheltered in place not to spread the coronavirus. We have applauded health care workers, the first-line of defense. But we also need to give a standing ovation to Wisconsin’s citizens forced to put their lives on the line simply to exercise their right to vote.
Government leaders have taken oaths to protect our “. . . unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” yet Wisconsin’s legislature, its supreme court, and the U.S. Supreme Court failed to protect these rights, causing Wisconsinites to stand in severe rainstorms to vote in their state’s primary. The leaders asked citizens to shelter in place, then forced them into long lines, inches from their fellow voters in circumstances that could have spread COVID-19. The voters cared more about our democracy and a foundational cornerstone --the right and responsibility to vote -- than those in power to protect them. In overturning Wisconsin’s governor’s attempt to postpone in-person voting due to the coronavirus, tens of thousands of Wisconsin voters were disenfranchised.
The Hilton Head Island – Bluffton Area League of Women Voters is proud to be nonpartisan, always working to empower voters and defend democracy. As such we hope that the Wisconsin debacle will not be repeated in South Carolina. We trust our state leaders to enact alternatives such as postponement of our primary elections should the virus still put our citizens at risk, the use of mail-in voting, and expansion of absentee voting.
To vote absentee in South Carolina, certain criteria must be met, such as serving in the military, age 65+, or disabled. The voter must first apply for an absentee ballot. Upon review, the state then mails an absentee ballot that the voter completes, signs, and returns in person or by mail. For these eligible voters, mailing avoids the health risks to themselves and others while standing in line in a public place, sometimes for several hours. See scVOTES for a full listing of eligibility, application, and voting requirements. Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia offer no-excuse absentee voting. Five states have elections that are held by mail-in ballot; all registered voters can automatically receive a ballot by mail without the need to apply for it or meet certain criteria. Only 17 states require voters to provide an excuse for voting by absentee ballot. Unfortunately, South Carolina is one of those 17 states.Urgent: extend the deadline to tally ballots
Today South Carolina requires that all absentee votes must be counted on Election Day. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, we can expect many more absentee ballots. Thus passage of S.867 to allow more time for counting of absentee ballots is an immediate priority. This bill passed the State Senate unanimously on February 20 and awaits action in the House Judiciary Committee. Read the League’s recent article about needed voting reforms.
Local House Representatives Jeff Bradley (District 123) and Weston Newton (District 120) serve on the House Judiciary Committee. Write to them, if you have not already done so; urge them to quickly move S.867 from committee to a full House vote. Urge Representative Herbkersman (District 118) to support S.867 and speak with colleagues. Both of our local State Senators voted for S.867 so we suggest that you contact them by mail, email, tweet, or post to thank them for voting for this bill and urge further action. Local Senators are Senator
Urge your SC Representative and SC Senator to enact universal vote-by-mail as an emergency measure. If not currently possible, expand absentee voting so that all eligible voters, without categorical restrictions, can apply for an absentee ballot.
Ruth Wilwerding is Voter Services Chair for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Area League of Women Voters