After passing the House, Senate and governor's desk this month, every registered South Carolina voter can now cast an absentee ballot. Now what?
The provision allows anyone in the state who is eligible to vote in the general election this November to cast a ballot in one of three ways: absentee early in person, absentee mail in or in person on Election Day.
The bill first passed the Senate in early September. It was then approved by the House on Tuesday. Gov. Henry McMaster signed it into law on Wednesday, Sept. 16, changing statewide voting rules to eliminate the requirement that a voter needs a reason to vote absentee. Now, to help fight the spread of COVID-19, voters can cast an absentee ballot without a reason.
What are my options?
Completed absentee ballots, which is a way to vote before Election Day, can be mailed in or handed to an election official at a county or satellite election office between Oct. 5 and Nov. 2. Absentee ballots cannot be handed in in person at your regular polling place on Election Day.
The new law also allows election offices to start preparing absentee ballots for scanning two days early, on Nov. 1.
What didn't make it into the bill?
The bill did not include all the measures proponents like the League of Women Voters wanted. The group gave a nod to state Rep. Wendy Brawley, a Democrat from Hopkins whose district reaches into Sumter County, who fought to remove the requirement that a witness must sign an absentee ballot being mailed in. She also fought for the addition of secure drop boxes at election offices.
The Republican-dominated General Assembly dropped those amendments pushed by Brawley and other Democrats. So, absentee ballots must be dropped off in person, or a second person must sign the ballot as a witness if it's being mailed in.
State and federal cases that remain active are seeking to eliminate the witness requirement.
*Update: On Wednesday, Sept. 16, Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law a bill that allows all registered voters in South Carolina to cast an absentee ballot without a reason in November's general election. On Sept. 18, U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs struck down the rule requiring mail-in absentee ballots to be signed by witnesses, writing that the requirement would increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 for several groups of voters. That decision was appealed by South Carolina's Republican leaders and the state election commission. A federal court on Thursday, Sept. 24, reinstated the requirement that South Carolinians voting by mail in this year's general election must obtain a witness signature for their ballots, but a full appeals court reversed the decision yet again and put the requirement on hold. The final decision was made by the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 5, reinstating the requirement for signatures.
What are the deadlines?
According to Pat Jefferson, director of Sumter County Voter Registration and Elections, these are the deadlines for registering to vote:
These dates also apply for change of addressees.
These are the deadlines for voting absentee:
Who can I vote for this year?
In the tri-county, there are more than 70 candidates running for local, state, national and presidential elected offices. There are 13 contested races, including the president, U.S. congressional seats, state legislative positions and local offices such as for mayor, city and county council and school board. Not every voter will see every candidate on his or her ballot.
For more information on specific races and candidates, follow The Sumter Item's election coverage in the paper and online at www.theitem.com/election2020.
Sumter County voters also will decide whether to allow stores to sell beer and wine on Sundays.
How do I vote?
To vote absentee in person, visit on of the following locations:
Vote absentee in person in Sumter Oct. 5-Nov. 2. Complete the application and cast your ballot there.
To vote absentee by mail, call (803) 436-2313 or visit the county election office to request a ballot in Sumter County be mailed to you. A member of a voter's immediate family or authorized representative can also request the application. You can also get and print the application online at www.scvotes.org.
Once you receive the application, complete it, sign it and return it by mail, email, fax or personal delivery no later than Oct. 24 at 5 p.m. An authorized representative can return the application by Oct. 30 at 5 p.m.
Once you get your ballot in the mail, complete it, sign it, have a witness sign it and return it either by mail, personal delivery or authorized representative.
If returning by personal delivery, county election staff will be outside the election office during business hours to collect ballots so you don’t have to wait in line.
The state election commission is recommending absentee ballots are mailed as soon as possible, preferably a week before Election Day.
Where can I find more information?
Check your voter registration status, get your sample ballot and find a voting FAQ - visit www.scvotes.org
Call Sumter County Voter Registration and Elections - (803) 436-2313
More election coverage - visit www.theitem.com/election2020
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