More than 1.3 million South Carolinians cast their ballots before election day this year, driving record turnout in the midst of a pandemic in a state that does not technically have no-excuse early voting. It’s time for South Carolina to remedy that by joining the 44 other states that have statewide support for early voting.
South Carolina lawmakers have never been proactive on policies that increase equity and democracy. That’s no secret. But, this year has been an especially embarrassing charade to watch. Right-wing partisans and their bureaucratic cronies’ voter-suppression crusade saw proposals to expand absentee voting rejected and a voter protection lawsuit appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. In the end, their efforts likely did more to discourage legitimate voters than election fraudsters. Indeed, SLED said Monday that only one voter fraud complaint related to a local election is currently under investigation.
Charleston County led the state in early absentee voting this year, surpassing the county’s entire 2018 midterm elections with more than 159,000 ballots cast. With four satellite voting locations for expanded in-person absentee voting, the county tallied nearly 35,000 ballots during the final week alone. In Richland County, which had six satellite voting locations, more than 132,000 absentee votes had been cast as of Monday, 92.6% of their 2018 midterm total.
Unfortunately, support in-person absentee voting is not actually the law of the land in South Carolina. County election offices are on their own to devise plans to increase voter turnout in their areas, and some, like Charleston, even apply for outside grant funding to meet demand. Even then, voters waited at North Charleston Coliseum nearly three hours to vote on Oct. 31, one of two Saturdays when satellite locations were open. In Berkeley County, where there was only one location open on Saturday, voters waited five hours. Long lines are no surprise, since South Carolina is one of just six U.S. states with no official early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
South Carolina’s 3.49 million registered voters depend on an efficient, reliable process to make sure their votes count. Our democracy demands it too. An engaged electorate with a truly representative state government should be a goal for our state — a point of pride. But, people need to be able to cast their votes. With more ways to do that, the closer we get to that goal of democracy.
The fact is: The easier it is to vote, the more people will vote. The more people who vote, the better. That should be something Republicans and Democrats agree upon as a fundamental of democracy.
Every American’s most basic civic responsibility is to cast their vote. During times of crisis — the past seven months included — human instincts bring us together in support of a common purpose.
Our republic deserves to be taken seriously. When our system of voting routinely makes it more difficult to participate in American democracy, it’s time to change the laws.
When the state legislature returns to Columbia in January, we the people demand that our elected leaders finally get serious about enacting real early voting in South Carolina. Our votes, and their reelections, depend on it.