Answering last minute voting questions with SC on track to double 2016 absentee record

Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 8:17 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - With less than two weeks before Election Day, state election officials say we’re on track to double the record number of absentee voters we saw in 2016.

State Election Commission (SEC) spokesperson, Chris Whitmire, tells WIS-TV we’re seeing between 30,000-40,000 in-person absentee voters every day here in the Palmetto State. He says the uptick in absentee voters is changing the whole dynamic of this election.

The previous record in our state was set in 2016 when more than 500,000 people voted absentee. Already, more than 320,000 people have voted in-person absentee. About 250,000 have returned mail-in absentee ballots with another nearly 200,000 issued but not yet returned.

While more than 570,000 absentee ballots have already been completed, keep in mind there are still almost two weeks left of in-person absentee voting. There’s also still time to apply for a mail-in absentee ballot. That deadline is coming up, Saturday, a change from previous elections when this deadline is normally the Friday before Election Day. Whitmire says it was pushed up to ensure voters receive their ballots on time.

He also says the unprecedented volume of absentee voters has caused some delays in some people receiving their absentee ballots by mail and mainly in Richland County.

“Before the pandemic, most people who voted absentee voted absentee in person. Now, since the pandemic, obviously people wanting to avoid going out, locations, crowds, interacting with other people are choosing by mail. That volume does create issues,” said Whitmire, who added that this, “can create issues and delays trying to get all the ballots out, and then it can also create issues and delays in getting those ballots back and getting them processed and counted.”

Whitmire says he believes the issues causing the delays have been resolved and that this should not have interfered with anyone being able to return their ballot on time. It’s recommended that you put your completed ballots in the mail at least one week before Election Day.

South Carolina could see 1 million voters cast their ballots all before Election Day, according to Whitmire. Still, many voters have lingering questions about the process this year, including whether or not we’ll know the results on Election Day.

Whitmire says there have been steps taken to avoid delays in counting the ballots like providing counties with additional scanners and staff.

Also, the General Assembly voted to allow the counting process to begin early.

This is a two-step process for mail-in ballots. Step one, which is removing the ballots from their secrecy envelope can now begin 26 hours earlier. This first step separates the ballots from any information identifying the voter.

Step two is actually counting the ballots, which will also happen earlier this year. Instead of beginning at 9:00 AM on Election Day, November 3, this process can begin at 7:00 AM that day.

“It could mean that there could be some counties who aren’t finished on election night and that’s certainly a possibility,” said Whitmire.

The SEC spokesperson says he does not foresee this process going on, “for days and days or any sort of extreme wait on finding out what the total results are but it’s certainly realistic that a county could not be able to finish this on Election Day and have to come back on Wednesday [the next day] to finish processing the rest of the absentee by-mail ballots.”

When asked about the confusion surrounding the witness signature requirement for mail-in absentee ballots, Whitmire said in 2016, there were 1,600 ballots returned without this witness signature. While we don’t yet have numbers for this election, Whitmire says with the new record number of absentee voters, this number will likely go up.

Some voters have also questioned what happens if one receives a mail-in absentee ballot, but has decided to vote in person, instead. Whitmire says there are a couple of options. This ballot can be filled out and returned to your county voter registration office or extension office.

It’s important to note that you cannot take your mail-in ballot to your polling place on Election Day. Also, you cannot show up to your polling place on Election Day and request a ballot because records will show that you’ve been issued a mail-in ballot. If you want to vote in person on Election Day, you will need to return your blank ballot to your county voter registration office or extension office before Election Day and let officials know that you intend to vote in person.

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