Cunningham's campaign announcement event brought supporters to Tradesman Brewing Co. Wednesday | Skyler Baldwin

Proposals to end straight-ticket voting, expand early voting and reform redistricting are among the changes that will be floated by Democratic candidate for governor Joe Cunningham on Friday. Meanwhile nationwide, conservatives in Congress and Republican-controlled state legislatures continue ramping up efforts to nix expanded voting procedures that voters got a taste of in 2020.

Cunningham said his 10-point plan would “protect and expand voting rights in South Carolina,” and also includes automatic voter registration at 18, allowing voters to register and cast a ballot on the same day, 30 days of early voting, an expansion of ID types that can be used to vote and making Election Day a state holiday.

The plan would also eliminate witness signatures for mail-in ballots, make ballot drop boxes available in every county and invest in voting machines and personnel to cut down on lines.

“Right now South Carolina has some of the most restrictive and archaic voting laws in the country, and when I’m governor that’s going to change,” Cunningham said in a statement. “In our state, you can vote with your concealed weapons permit but not your college ID. You have to sign an affidavit swearing that you are unable to vote on election day before you can vote early. And South Carolina is one of only six states that still allows straight-ticket voting which is nothing more than state-sponsored partisanship. It’s time for our state to lead on voting rights and this plan will help us do just that.”

After serving a term in Congress, Cunningham is now in a three-way race for the Democratic nomination for governor with state Sen. Mia McLeod and activist Gary Votour. Gov. Henry McMaster will seek another term in 2022.

Voting rules are getting attention from Republican lawmakers this year as polls show up to two-thirds of Republican voters believe President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory was illegitimate. No significant voter fraud has been found anywhere in the U.S., but right-wing provocateurs have blamed former President Donald Trump’s loss on temporary measures enacted in many states to make voting safer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mobs that staged the deadly invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were there to stop election results from being certified.

In Washington this week, voting reforms that would have affected federal elections and put in safeguards against election fraud were defeated in the U.S. Senate. The For the People Act was supported by 50 U.S. senators, but procedural rules allow the minority party to threaten a filibuster and sink proposals that have support of less than 60 senators. Cunningham was among the U.S. House members who voted to pass the bill.

Republicans in South Carolina haven’t mounted a significant push to clamp down on voting rules like lawmakers have in Georgia and Texas, though they did challenge the temporary voting measures put in place last year.

And ahead of redistricting in the fall and the 2022 midterm elections, huge Republican majorities in the state House, Senate and statewide elected offices set the stage for significant changes even before the next election.

“This legislature has created a system where politicians can’t lose and voters can’t win. They’ll do anything to hold on to power including making it harder to vote — especially for African Americans,” Cunningham told the City Paper. “We’re seeing it all over the country and I’m going to do everything I can to keep it from happening here.”

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