COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - After weeks of legal battles, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled South Carolina voters mailing their absentee ballots after October 7th will need a witness signature.
Election officials said they are relieved to finally have some clarity on how to move forward. Ballots without witness signatures received before October 7 will be counted.
Monday’s order from the high court caps off weeks of debate over the requirement.
Last month, a federal judge struck down the witness signature requirement after South Carolina lawmakers expanded absentee voting for the November General Election because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ruling was appealed and made it’s way to the Supreme Court.
Monday, justices released a two-page order granting a request to reinstate the witness signature requirement in South Carolina.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the order that federal courts should not alter state election rules this close to an election. South Carolina law has required the witness signature for decades now.
A spokesperson for the State Election Commission said it should not be difficult for voters to find a witness. “Any other person can be a witness. It’s very easy to do this. There’s not a notary requirement, not an age requirement,” he said.
Republican lawmakers kept the requirement in when they passed the bill to expand absentee voting. They said it’s a tool law enforcement can use to investigate voter fraud claims.
Representative Stewart Jones (R-Laurens) said, “The witness signature is one of many ways to make sure we ensure the integrity of the election and we ensure a ballot is legit.”
Officials and law enforcement said proven cases of absentee voter fraud are extremely rare in South Carolina.
According to Whitmire, since literally anyone can be a witness, election officials don’t have a way to verify the signatures since they only have information on registered voters in the state.
Whitmire said election officials have been asking lawmakers to remove this requirement for years.
“Even prior to the pandemic, way before this court case even started,” he said.
In November 2018, 784 absentee ballots were not counted because of a missing witness signature. Whitmire said about 80,000 South Carolinians voted absentee by mail for that election.