Election officials explain options for voting before Election Day 2020

Demystifying options for voting before Election Day 2020

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - We’re just over two weeks out from what many are calling the “most historic election.”

But voting during a global pandemic has led to new options available to every registered voter, and South Carolinians are encouraged to take advantage of the one that suits them best.

Three options are available this year: in-person absentee, by mail absentee, and in-person voting on Nov. 3.

The South Carolina Election Commission is already projecting that over a million people will vote before the actual Election Day.

By Oct. 16, approximately 451,000 absentee ballots (both in-person and by mail) had been returned. It seems likely that the previous overall record for absentee ballot returns, set during the 2016 general election, will soon be eclipsed, after reaching 503,000 ballot returns.

When it comes to your options for how to vote absentee, the rules and policies to go about it have quite a lot of differentiation.

“Absentee in-person is really the easiest way to vote absentee,” said Chris Whitmire, of S.C. Election Commission.

The process is much like coming into your voter registration office to vote on Nov. 3.

“You mark your ballot, you put it in the scanner, and you’re done,” he said.

It’s by-mail absentee ballot voting where the process becomes a bit more lengthy, though still very doable. Whitmire broke down the steps involved.

“The first step in voting absentee by mail is getting your application," he said.

You can request that application at the state’s voting website, where you’ll have to print out your application, or request one from your county’s voter registration office, who can mail it to you. You then must send it into your county voter registration office - by mail, hand-delivered, fax, email, or by an Authorized Representative. You will not be able to receive a by-mail ballot without a successfully received application.

“The key to that right now is if you haven’t started, you need to act now,” Whitmire said.

The deadline for your county’s voter registration office to receive your application is Saturday, Oct. 24. Once it is received, your absentee by mail ballot will be sent out, which can take a few days. After voting on the ballot, you place it within what’s called a secrecy, or “Ballot Herein” envelope, which is used to protect one’s privacy. This is then placed inside the accompanied postage-paid return envelope.

“The county [voter registration office] will remove all the Ballot Herein envelopes from the outer envelopes. They’ll complete that process so then they just have that stack of Ballot Herein envelopes," Whitmire explained. “The name of the voter has been separated, and then they’ll go through a process of actually taking the ballots out of those envelopes, so you never see how a person voted.”

Before this by-mail ballot can be sent in, however - the voter must sign the voter’s oath, and receive a witness signature testifying that this happened.

“Somebody has to sign below your name, and provide their address, saying that they witnessed you signing your envelope," said Whitmire. "That can be any other person. This is not a notary; it doesn’t have to be another voter - it can literally be any other person who witnesses you doing that.”

With said by-mail ballot, you can then mail it back, or hand-deliver it to the voter registration office by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3.

In Horry County alone, over 41,000 registered voters have taken up absentee ballot voting - roughly 16% of the county’s registered voters.

Whitmire addressed some of the concerns viewers have raised with WMBF News. The speed of receiving one’s by-mail ballot can be attributed to the fact that ballots were just being sent out, Whitmire said.

“While the person may have applied weeks or even months ago, ballots aren’t mailed until around 30 days before the election,” he said. “If you’ve applied recently, and you haven’t gotten your ballot yet - give it a reasonable amount of time to receive your ballot in the mail, and vote that ballot, instead of going to in-person absentee. Just be patient and vote that ballot.”

However, if it’s been a reasonable amount of time, Whitmire encourages you to contact your local office for another by-mail ballot or go vote in-person absentee.

Ultimately, they’re looking to have a smooth process as the final day to vote fast approaches.

“When you choose an option, do that option. It creates issues when you decide, ‘Okay, I was going to do it that way, but now I want to go vote absentee in person, or now I want to vote at the polls.’ I encourage voters to choose the option that’s best for them, and follow through with that option,” Whitmire said.

He said it’s not that a voter can’t go back and change their mind on how they want to vote, but it can complicate the process

“If lots and lots of people wanted to change how they were in the middle of the process of voting, that can cause problems for election officials,” he said. "We’re really all in this together - voters, election officials, every citizen in South Carolina.”

Absentee by mail voters can track the progress of your ballot on their website.

Officials said the system isn’t as trackable as if you were following a package delivery - but they’re working to get it to that point.

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