Absentee voting bill sponsor says he’s open to compromise at subcommittee hearing

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 7:31 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Wednesday, the Election Laws Subcommittee held a hearing for House Bill 4150, which if passed, would dramatically reshape South Carolina’s election system.

Sponsor Rep. Brandon Newton (R-Lancaster and York Counties) said at the beginning of the review he was open to dialogue.

“I am totally open to compromise, to testimony, to ideas, this is, I don’t pretend to be an expert about election law. I offer this bill as a starting point,” he said.

Several leaders of civil rights groups and concerned citizens testified on their thoughts, and the vast majority were against the bill as written.

The bill would do several things, which include:

  • Establishing a 14-day in-person early voting period leading up to the election (these days would be Monday through Friday, and include the Saturday immediately preceding the election, and would end by 5 p.m.)
  • Establishing a scale for the number of early voting locations each county must have based on the number of registered voters, but cap the number of locations at six
  • Banning the use of drop boxes
  • Removing groups who are eligible for absentee voting (including, but not limited to, jurors, poll workers, caretakers, and those who cannot leave work)

SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center Director Sue Berkowitz expressed frustration at the idea of curbing absentee voting eligibility.

“Opportunities to vote absentee need to be kept in there. They’ve been in there for a reason and the limitations, I’m just absolutely perplexed as to any rational reasoning as to why we’d take those out, we should leave all of those in there,”

Her concerns were echoed by ACLU of South Carolina Legal Director Susan Dunn.

“We’d urge you to think with any of these changes, is what we’re trying to fix worth the price we’d pay for it.”

Speakers did express conditional approval for the idea of early voting but said the hours and days should be expanded. A theme among the speakers was concern minority groups and the underprivileged would be hurt by the measures.

However, they were encouraged by Newton’s desire for compromise, and poll worker Kevin Eckert said he did not sense ill-will.

“I don’t believe there’s any malicious intent with the bill, but I don’t think it would really improve our voting system. To me, some of the restrictions on absentee voting just seem arbitrary. I guess my question for the committee is, what difference does it make if someone votes absentee or early in person?” he said.

The subcommittee did not act on the bill.

Newton said he gathered his ideas in part from time spent as a volunteer poll worker last year. The bill is also co-sponsored by Rep. Chip Huggins (R-Lexington County).

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) filed a bill that would expand absentee voting and said she is hoping to work with Newton on his bill.

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