As coronavirus pandemic continues, decision over S.C. June primaries looms

As coronavirus pandemic continues, decision over S.C. June primaries looms

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Statewide primaries in South Carolina are about two months away.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there could be changes to way residents vote.

State election officials said they have sent the governor and members of the General Assembly some ideas that would help them safely conduct the June primaries in the middle of a pandemic.

Chris Whitmire, with the State Election Commission, said they will be doing everything they can to make sure poll workers and voters aren’t exposed to the virus during the primaries.

Whitmire said they have suggested expanding absentee voting, holding early voting and letting South Carolinians vote by mail if they’d prefer to do that.

“We’re reaching a critical moment here because we’re up against a deadline to send ballots to military and overseas citizens,” Whitmire said. “That’s coming up in two weeks.”

The State Election Commission said any of these options could help make things safer for voters and poll workers, but there is no perfect solution.

Whitmire said something like vote-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,” he said. “We have do not authority to implement them unilaterally.”

According to the State Election Commission, the governor has the authority to implement any new initiatives.

A spokesperson for Gov. Henry McMaster said they are working closely with the State Election Commission to make sure no South Carolinian is put in harms way when they vote in June.

The League of Women Voters of South Carolina said 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 -- the right to vote,” Lynn Teague said.

The primaries are scheduled for June 9.

Lawmakers are expected to set aside about $15 million for the State Election Commission to cover any expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

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