COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – The South Carolina Election Commission has written a letter to state lawmakers calling for them to create legislation that will help the voting process on Election Day in November.
Marci Andino, the executive director of the South Carolina Election Commission, sent the letter to state Sen. Harvey Peeler and South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas last Friday, expressing serious concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact to the November elections.
Before the June primaries, the General Assembly passed a bill that allowed qualified voters to vote absentee, but for the June primaries only, and also the opening of absentee ballot return envelopes the day before the election. Andino also noted that funding was provided so that protective measures could be taken to keep voters, poll workers and county election officials healthy and safe.
Andino said the changes and the efforts by voters, poll managers and election officials led to successful primaries.
“However, success in June does not necessarily translate to success in November. Voter turnout and absentee voting in a General Election are significantly higher than in primaries,” Andino wrote. “Even under normal circumstances, presidential elections are the ultimate test of any state’s election process.”
In the letter, Andino estimates that more than 1.6 million absentee ballots will be cast in November, and if voters choose by mail, more than 1 million of those ballots will be cast by mail.
The Election Commission is concerned that the absentee-by-mail process will be overwhelmed and overrun if they have the same rules and provisions in place as the June primaries.
“The opening and counting of absentee-by-mail ballots will require substantially more time to complete, and election results will be significantly delayed,” Andino wrote.
The commissioners are also concerned about more people being at polling locations, which will make social distancing difficult. They also expect the poll manager shortages to be more extreme than in June.
The South Carolina Election Commission is recommending the following emergency changes to the election in order to ensure that the 2020 General Election is safe during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Reinstate the “state of emergency” reason allowing every voter the option to vote absentee.
- Allow voters to apply for an absentee ballot online.
- Remove the witness requirement for absentee return envelopes.
- Allow use of drop boxes for return of absentee ballots.
- Provide election officials with more time to process absentee-by-mail ballots or extend the date in which counties must certify the results of the election.
- Allow curbside voting to take place at designated locations instead of at every polling place.
Commissioners are also asking the General Assembly to consider these additional solutions that have been successful in other states:
- Allow voters with disabilities, first responders and medical personnel to use the existing electronic ballot delivery tool currently used by military and overseas citizens.
- Early voting would provide voters with an additional option, relieve congestion at polling places, reduce wait times, and relieve stress on the absentee-by-mail process.
- Vote-by-mail programs are becoming more popular as alternative to voting in person, although there may not be enough time to implement this prior to November.
“We respectfully ask that immediate action be taken so election officials have as much time as possible to ensure we rise to the greatest challenge to our election system our state has ever seen,” Andino wrote.