This week, Governor McMaster signed into law legislation that will better protect voters in the November general election during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor’s action takes away one of the two hurdles to safe voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, and comes after a federal lawsuit brought by us and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Until this week, eligible voters in South Carolina faced two hurdles to safe voting. First, people who wished to vote absentee faced an “excuse” requirement that failed to provide an accommodation to allow all eligible voters to vote absentee during the pandemic. Second, people who vote absentee are required to have a third-party witness signature on their ballot envelope.
Requiring voters to be physically present at their traditional polling places during the COVID-19 outbreak — where they will be congregating and waiting in line with others in order to vote — is contrary to the advice of public health experts. In addition, in the midst of a pandemic, the witness requirement also puts people’s health at risk.
Thanks to the legislature’s and Governor McMaster’s actions, eligible South Carolina voters will now be allowed to cite COVID-19 as a valid reason for voting absentee. But, the legislation signed into law does not address the witness requirement, which makes voting from a safe social distance impossible for those who live alone.
We are asking the courts to remove this remaining hurdle to safe voting in South Carolina so that no South Carolina voter will need to choose between their health and their vote.
Stay tuned. As soon as we have clarity from the court around the witness requirement, we will send out voting rights education materials so that all South Carolinanians will understand the process for voting absentee in November.