Facing lawsuit over absentee ballot rules, South Carolina moving forward with primary

Ohio's Secretary of State Frank LaRose and the Ohio Grocer Association announced a partnership to allow consumers to pick up absentee ballot applications in grocery stores for Ohio's primary election.
Ohio's Secretary of State Frank LaRose and the Ohio Grocer Association announced a partnership to allow consumers to pick up absentee ballot applications in grocery stores for Ohio's primary election.(WSAZ)
Published: Apr. 28, 2020 at 12:31 PM EDT
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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS/WMBF) – Even as it faces a lawsuit over absentee voting, the South Carolina State Election Commission announced that the June 9 primary will go on as scheduled.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of South Carolina and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund have filed a federal lawsuit against members of the commission and Gov. Henry McMaster for not ensuring all voters can vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.

Absentee voting is available, but only if certain qualifications are met.

Those behind the lawsuit say their message is that South Carolina voters should not have to choose between life and their right to vote. The lawsuit was filed April 22 in U.S. District Court in Columbia.

The ACLU is arguing that South Carolina can both keep the public safe while also protecting democracy, but the ACLU says the state is refusing to do so. They also say requiring voters to physically report to polling locations and wait in line to vote goes against the advice of public health experts and social distancing guidelines.

Earlier this month, the state of Wisconsin moved forward with in-person voting for its recent primary elections. CNN is now reporting that at least 19 of those voters have since tested positive for COVID-19.

With this recent lawsuit, the ACLU says there’s still time to come up with a new plan to keep South Carolina voters safe.

Susan Dunn is the legal director with ACLU South Carolina.

She says this lawsuit has been filed, “against the Election Commission and the governor because they’re in the position to fix these things, but the Election Commission feels that they need the guidance of the governor or the legislators in order to make the changes that are needed, and our position is, well, if you can’t get it from the governor, you can’t get it from the legislature, we’ll go and ask for it from a court. If people are discouraged from voting or have to make choices about choosing between voting and being able to protect their health. That’s not a good plan for democracy.”

The ACLU says the process might seem challenging and therefore discouraging – disproportionately affecting minorities – by requiring eligible voters to request and submit an absentee ballot. Then, that ballot must be signed and witnessed before being returned with a stamp.

A spokesperson with the commission says it cannot comment on pending litigation, but there have been measures put in place to ensure the safety of voters and poll managers.

The commission said it has no authority to delay the primaries or deviate from current law in conducting elections.

The voting options remain unchanged, and voters are encouraged to choose the best option for them.

Vote absentee

Those who qualify are urged to vote absentee as soon as possible.

If voting absentee by mail, you should apply now.

In-person absentee voting at county voter registration offices begins May 4.

Qualifications include:

• Being age 65 or older

• Having a disability (includes illness and injury)

• Attending a sick or disabled person

Vote on Election Day

Election officials are taking steps to protect the health of voters and poll managers:

• Poll managers will receive special Covid-19 training on applying social distancing and maintaining sanitary conditions in the polling place.

Election officials are working to source:

• Masks, face shields and gloves for poll managers.

• Sneeze guards for check-in stations.

• Sanitizing wipes for cleaning common surfaces.

• Hand sanitizer for voters and poll managers.

• Cotton swabs for making selections on the touchscreen.

• Check-in stations and voting equipment will be spaced at least six feet apart.

• Some polling places will be relocated or consolidated due to the pandemic. Some facilities have declined to be used, and some poll managers have declined to serve. Election officials are working to find new locations and recruit new managers; however, some voters will vote at a different polling place.

Voters should prepare by:

• Making sure you are registered to vote, and your address is up to date.

• Checking your registration.

• Registering or updating your address.

• Bringing your photo ID (or voter registration card if you do not have a photo ID).

• Checking your polling place at before going to the polls.

• Wearing a protective mask if you have one.

• Bringing your own pen for signing the poll list.

• Practicing social distancing by spacing yourself at least six feet apart from others.

• Being patient.

From reports by WIS and WMBF.

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