3 lawsuits filed seeking to change rules of absentee voting in SC ahead of June primary

Published: May. 7, 2020 at 5:06 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Democratic Party in South Carolina has filed state and federal lawsuits calling for changes to the state’s absentee voting system amid the coronavirus outbreak.

A third lawsuit has been filed by the ACLU and NAACP.

South Carolina has a primary election scheduled for June 9, 2020 and the general election is coming up in November.

Concerns about spreading COVID-19 have led some to call for changes to the June election, specifically expanding the state’s absentee voting system.

Absentee voting is done through the mail, limiting person-to-person contact. However, it does require the signature of a witness and requires voters to pay for the postage to mail the ballots.

These are some of the processes with which the lawsuits take issue.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and South Carolina Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in late April asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to rule on the matter.

The lawsuit does the following:

  • Asks that people who want to avoid going to the polls to limit their risk of catching the virus qualify as “physically disabled person[s]” who can vote with an absentee ballot
  • Urges the court “to determine that COVID-19 severely threatens the administration of elections and every resident’s constitutional right to free and open elections”

In early May, the same two groups, along with the Democratic National Committee, filed a federal lawsuit, as well.

“Without implementing protections that open access to using an absentee mail-in ballot, the COVID-19 pandemic could force voters to choose between their health and safety or participating in democracy,” a press release on the lawsuit said.

The suit seeks to do the following:

  • Eliminate the “Witness Requirement” to validate absentee ballots;
  • Remove the “Postage Tax” which requires voters to pay the postage to mail their absentee ballot;
  • Address the “Election Day Cut-off” so that absentee ballots mailed in time for the cut-off but that may not be processed by the postal service will still be counted;
  • Remove the “Absentee Assistance Ban” which makes it a felony for a candidate or campaign to help voters submit their absentee ballot.

“The Republicans that control our government have a moral responsibility to protect our citizens and a constitutional responsibility to make sure our Democracy doesn’t falter," SCDP Chairman Trav Robertson Jr. said. “Our more learned citizens have taken the lead in managing the majority of precincts or polling locations in our state, it is reckless to ask them to risk their lives when the Republicans who control our government have the ability to protect those citizens while ensuring our Democracy thrives. Our people demand that they take action and eliminate the qualifications for absentee voting and transition to a mail-in voting program.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of South Carolina, and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a similar federal lawsuit, as well.

It calls for the court to rule that people who are isolating due to COVID-19 concerns be considered eligible for absentee voting by classifying them under the injury or illness rule.

The lawsuit also calls for the witness requirement to be removed from absentee ballots.

“Requiring voters to be physically present at their traditional polling places during the COVID-19 outbreak — where they will be congregating and waiting in line with others in order to vote — is contrary to the advice of public health experts. In addition, in the midst of a pandemic, the witness requirement also puts people’s health at risk,” the groups said.

Monday, the South Carolina American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (SC AFL-CIO) backed all three lawsuits.

“Standing in line at a polling place waiting to cast a ballot put (sic) everyone, including the poll workers, at an unnecessary risk,” said Charles Brave Jr., SC AFL-CIO president. “We proudly side with our democratic partners and encourage our federal and stat courts to take action and remove the witness requirement, postage tax, election day cut-off and the absentee assistance ban before June’s statewide primary and November’s general election.”

No court has made a ruling on any of the lawsuits as of May 7.

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