As pandemic continues, voting decisions loom for South Carolina

The last date to request a Vote by Mail in Bay County for the 2020 Super Tuesday Elections is Saturday, April 11. (MGN)
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Friday, April 10, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Because of the coronavirus pandemic, changes could be made to the way people vote in the June 9 primaries in South Carolina.

The state election commission says any decisions need to be made soon. And what worries officials right now is the fact that most poll workers in the state are at the most at risk for severe illness from the coronavirus.

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Officials say they have sent the governor and members of the General Assembly some ideas that would help the state conduct elections in the middle of a pandemic.

They say they are doing everything they can to make sure poll workers -- who are usually older -- and voters aren't exposed to the virus.

They have suggested expanding absentee voting, holding early voting in South Carolina and letting people vote by mail.

They say any of these options could make things safer for voters or poll workers. But something like voting by mail would take a lot of work to implement.

"We're planning and looking at those alternatives. So we're ready to implement them if we're given the authority," said Chris Whitmire, director of public information for the commission.

The state election commission says the governor has the authority to implement any new initiatives.

“We’re reaching a critical moment here,” Whitmire said.

That’s because officials are up against a deadline to send ballots to service members and overseas citizens.

“That’s coming up in two weeks.” Whitmire said. “We’re building the ballots now. The first ballots go out in the next two weeks.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Henry McMaster says officials will be working closely with the election commission to make sure no South Carolinian is put in harm’s way when they go vote.

Those with the League of Women Voters of South Carolina say they are hopeful changes are made to protect everyone.

"This is about the safety of our entire state, the safety of communities and our most basic right as members of our society, which is to vote," said Lynn Teague of the league.

Lawmakers are expected to set aside $15 million for the commission to cover any expenses related to the pandemic.

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