Horry County fills election box full of invalid mail-in absentee ballots

Horry County fills election box full of invalid mail-in absentee ballots

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - The Horry County Office of Elections received thousands of mail-in absentee ballots over the past few weeks, but some of those ballots will not be counted because they are missing a witness signature.

Horry County Director of Registration and Elections Sandy Martin estimates about 60 or so mail-in absentee ballots are missing witness signatures.

Under the most recent ruling from the South Carolina Supreme Court, those voters won’t have the opportunity to vote again or make their votes count.

“There’s a lot of people that haven’t voted in years, and a lot of seniors that aren’t going to the polls this year because of the virus, that have never voted mail-in, like I have never done that either, and I’m sure this was a little confusing for them," said Marilyn Gurino, an Horry County resident who voted absentee.

Gurino, 72, said she has voted in every election since she was 21. Over the past few elections, the idea of absentee mail-in voting has grown more appealing to her.

“I got an absentee ballot because I have severe arthritis," said Gurino. "I cannot go and stand in line anymore.”

Her absentee ballot came with an insert with a list of instructions.

One point read: at the time your ballot was mailed, a court ruled you do not need a witness for your ballot to count. However, it is possible the court ruling could change.”

On Oct. 8, that ruling changed, so Gurino drove to her friend’s house for her friend to witness her filling out the ballot.

She stopped by the election office to make sure her ballot was okay, and to ask what would happen to the ballots that didn’t have a witness signature.

“'Oh, those get thrown in the reject box, those ballots will not count. Their votes will not count,'” Gurino says a worker at the elections office told her.

That box is sitting in Martin’s office, where it’s just about filled to the brim.

“I’ve actually called the state to see if there is something we can do, the state election commission decided there is nothing we can do once it’s sent in, so, we’re stuck," she said.

Chris Whitmire of the South Carolina Election Commission said their team researched the issue after the supreme court ruling came out, once again requiring witness signatures.

“They looked at that, got legal advice, and determined that, based on that Supreme Court ruling, and what is allowed under state law, that there is no authority to allow voters to cure an absentee ballot that’s returned without one of those signatures," he said.

Whitmire says that also means those voters won’t be able to vote in person on Nov. 3

Garino used to volunteer on Election Day and is disappointed every time she thinks of the box full of invalid ballots.

“It’s sad that they made their effort to vote, and it’s not being counted," she said.

Copyright 2020 WMBF. All rights reserved.