In these pandemic times, the state doesn’t want large groups of people to congregate. Yet it hasn’t expanded rules to allow people who want to shelter in place to vote by absentee ballot on June 9.
This makes absolutely no sense for anyone who has stood in long lines on election day, particularly now that there are more barriers to voting with identification requirements and new electronic machines still unfamiliar to many voters. More absentee voting would limit human contact — and potentially thwart the spread of coronavirus.
“The Republicans that control our government have a moral responsibility to protect our citizens and a constitutional responsibility to make sure our democracy doesn’t falter,” S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson said in a recent statement. “Our people demand that they take action and eliminate the qualifications for absentee voting and transition to a mail-in voting program.”
State Democrats and ACLU were right to file lawsuits challenging South Carolina’s old-fashioned way of doing elections — by making all but a subset of voters show up at a polling place. We already know mail-in balloting works. So let’s expand it.
Officials point to all sorts of exceptions that allow people to vote by mail. If you’re in the military or American Red Cross, you can vote absentee. If you’re overseas, disabled, a student living outside your home county, have a work conflict, on vacation, in the hospital, at a funeral, in jail, helping someone who is sick or disabled — all of you can vote absentee. So can anyone working the polls or who is 65 or older.
Quite frankly, anyone who wants to vote by mail could probably slide by in the pandemic claiming they have a work conflict. But that’s not really truthful.
But if more people actually do vote by mail, state officials are going to need more time to process ballots to make sure everyone’s vote is counted.
State lawmakers need to do two things next week to fix the whole mess. First, they need to pass emergency, temporary measures to allow more people to vote absentee during the June primary, any runoffs and in November in the general election. This will protect the integrity of the voting system — and protect public health — as we continue to grapple with the pandemic.
Second, they need to extend emergency measures to allow election officials to start processing ballots completed before election day to give them more time to do their counts, particularly if the mail-in system faces being overwhelmed in June. Even better: Also extend the time to certify elections from two days after the election to 30 days after the election to make sure everyone’s vote is counted.
But there’s more that lawmakers could do: They could get a jumpstart on modernizing how we conduct elections with this snazzy new thing called the Internet. If we can buy anything from groceries to a car through secure credit card transactions, we certainly can create a safe way to vote online. Nearing the age of receiving Social Security? You interact with the agency online. File taxes? You send a lot of personal information over the Internet. Come on, South Carolina. Get it together.
For a state with a rich maritime history, South Carolina is seriously missing the boat on voting absentee. It’s off the rails in two other ways too, both of which could be fixed during the three days lawmakers meet this month:
— Close the gun loophole. The murder of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston that shocked the nation occured almost five years ago. And still, lawmakers haven’t finished the job of strengthening gun background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, such as the shooter in Charleston. Finish the job this month.
— Approve medical marijuana. More than 30 states have decriminalized marijuana in some fashion. While South Carolina isn’t likely anytime soon to decriminalize fully, it should approve a medical marijuana proposal that will help those suffering from ailments have more relief. The measure, championed by S.C. Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and others, likely would have passed this session had it not been cut short by the pandemic. Finish the job.