Advocate Stories, COVID-19, Leadership and Civic Engagement
Voting in the Pandemic: We Need Action!
by Lynn Teague, VP for Issues and Action, League of Women Voters of SC on Apr 20, 2020
COVID-19 and existing South Carolina election procedures are a potentially deadly combination. COVID-19 is not going away in 2020, so the election procedures must change to protect us.
Current South Carolina law will unnecessarily spread this disease by compelling the majority of our citizens to congregate in polling places on election day. This is a danger to individual election workers and voters, but more importantly, election day can become infection day for whole communities. South Carolina’s leadership must take emergency action to substantially reduce the threat of spreading deadly COVID-19. We can have safe elections, but doing so will require legislative action very soon.
Poll workers are currently told that they will be provided hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves with guidelines for limiting the number of people in polling places at one time. However, substantial risks will remain for both workers and voters. Poll workers, already in short supply, recognize these dangers and many are refusing to serve. Owners and managers of polling locations are reluctant to allow dangerous gatherings. These losses will lead to significantly fewer polling places during the pandemic and will amplify the already great danger of crowded conditions.
The Director of the State Election Commission (SEC) and the officers of the South Carolina Association of Registration and Election Officials, Inc., (SCARE) have written to the Governor and General Assembly leadership urging procedural changes to ensure orderly and safe elections. The League of Women Voters of South Carolina has written to those leaders in support of their proposed changes. So far, nothing has been done beyond an inadequate emergency budget appropriation.
Election officials agree that postponing elections is not the best answer. The safest solution is universal voting by mail. Our county election officials have spoken through SCARE in favor of putting this into place on an emergency basis for South Carolina. Some partisans resist this because they believe, falsely, that the process favors one party or another. However, a major research study from Stanford University has shown that voting by mail does NOT bias results for one or the other major party. It simply protects the health of the public.
Other options that would reduce election dangers include no excuse early voting and expanded absentee voting. Allowing voters to access both voting by mail and early in-person voting over an expanded time frame would reduce election day crowds at polling places.
Another change is badly needed, to expand the time allowed to count absentee ballots. The number requesting absentee ballots could overwhelm county election offices. Legislators must pass S.867. This bill allows an extra day to count absentee ballots before election day. This bill has already passed the Senate. It must move forward in the House with an amendment to allow an even greater expansion of time for absentee vote counts during the pandemic.
What can you do?
- Write the Governor, your Senator, and your House Member and tell them that you urge their immediate action on election changes proposed by state (SEC) and county (SCARE) election officials in their recent letters. Emphasize the importance of voting by mail as the safest option available, and greatly expanded access to absentee voting as an absolute minimum response to COVID-19 dangers. Tell them that S.867 must pass to allow prompt and orderly reporting of election results.
(Use their home addresses – they are currently furloughed and mail to their State House addresses will probably be slow to reach them.)
- Check to see if you are eligible to vote absentee under current criteria, which are listed at https://www.scvotes.org/absentee-voting. All persons over the age of 65 are eligible. Many others are also eligible, for example if you are disabled, care for someone who is sick or disabled, if your work prevents your voting on election day or if you will be out of the county on vacation on election day.
- If you are eligible under any of the 16 legally permitted criteria, request an absentee ballot and choose to vote by mail! Do this as soon as possible to avoid what is likely to be a crushing burden on local election offices nearer the election.
- Encourage others to write their legislators and the Governor, and encourage them to vote absentee if they are eligible.
We can have safe elections in 2020, but doing so will require rapid and effective action from our state leaders! Do your part now!
Updated April 22, 2020–
BREAKING: We’re suing to ensure vote by mail is an option for all eligible South Carolina voters during COVID-19.
No one should have to break social distancing recommendations to cast their ballot.
— ACLU (@ACLU) April 22, 2020