Safe and Secure Elections 2020

Posted By: Lynn Teague Advocacy ,

By Lynn Teague, VP for Issues and Action

League of Women's Voters of South Carolina

October 18 Update 

Together SC members can serve a vital function in helping to get the word out about the 2020 general election. The following is a very basic outline of voter guidance that can help South Carolinians navigate the troubled waters of voting in 2020 without endangering their health or their peace of mind.

For more than two centuries the United States has conducted secure elections that have been the envy of much of the world. We are still doing that, even in year that confronts voters with multiple challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic. This has introduced new issues related to personal safety, but those concerns are being addressed by a multitude of election workers, advocates, legal advisors, and citizen volunteers. There is still on-going advocacy work to make sure that every legitimate vote is counted properly, but the primary focus now is on informing and encouraging voters.

The important messages for voters in South Carolina are to:

  • Make sure you are registered with a current address;
  • Consult SCVotes.gov for information on the available voting options and procedures;
  • Inform yourself about candidates and parties;
  • Plan your vote;
  • And VOTE!
Checking voter registration

South Carolina voters can check their voter registration at www.SCVotes.gov. This is the official website of the SC State Election Commission. Filling in the voter name and the requested information and this takes the elector to their own page. The deadline for on-line registration was October 4.

Consult SCVotes.gov for information on how to vote

Recognizing that no one should be required to sacrifice their health or their peace of mind to vote, the South Carolina General Assembly and Governor have expanded absentee options for all voters during the emergency associated with the current pandemic. COVID-19 is now a legitimate absentee voting excuse for every voter. This means that all of us can choose between:

  • Voting absentee-by-mail
  • Voting absentee in-person
  • Voting in-person on Election Day

All of these are secure options. On September 24, FBI Director Wray testified to Congress that “We have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.”

Inform yourself about candidates and parties

For many South Carolina counties, the League of Women Voters website at www.Vote411.org is a valuable source of information about candidates – in their own words – and about voting. There are many others. However, voters should be careful about some forms of information including dubious emotionally charged and undocumented social media posts and dark money funded political messages. Consider the source always, and if the source refuses to disclose itself, don’t accept the associated message.

Plan your vote

Both voting options and the calendar for the 2020 election have been changed by legislative action to ensure safer elections during the pandemic. Voters should check the current dates for registration and for voting at

https://www.scvotes.gov/sites/default/files/2020%20Election%20Calendar%20(scVOTES)%202020-09-21.pdf

The State Elections Office has provided specific information about the 2020 election at https://www.scvotes.gov/2020-general-election-faqs.

Voters can choose to vote absentee-by-mail, an option that is especially attractive for those in a high-risk category for COVID-19. Voters can go on-line to SCVotes.gov and carefully follow the instructions there to download a form to apply for an absentee ballot or can call the county election office for an absentee application. Voters can track the progress of applications and ballots at the website SCVotes.gov.

Absentee-by-mail ballots can be returned through the mails or in person to the county election office (but not a regular polling place). An “authorized representative” can return your ballot, but only if the authorization form that is enclosed with the ballot is completed and returned with the ballot.

Voters who choose absentee-by-mail should check to make sure that they have followed all instructions, including used the two envelopes provided, signing as required, and obtaining a witness signature and the address of the witness. The witness can be anyone, including a spouse or a stranger, as long as the witness can provide an address. Voters are strongly encouraged to hand deliver their ballot to the county election office once there is a week or less to go before Election Day, November 3. Many offices are providing designated staff members to receive ballots so you do not have to wait in line with those voting in-person. In some counties, this is available on a drive-through basis.

Many voters will choose instead to vote absentee in-person, when less crowding will produce a lower risk to those with health concerns than Election Day. This option has been available at county election offices in all counties since October 5. Many counties also have additional extension or satellite locations.

These locations, along with the dates and hours of operation, are posted for download at https://www.scvotes.gov/absentee-person-voting-locations. No preparation is needed to vote this way, it is just like Election Day but at a more limited number of locations and with – in most cases – lower danger of encountering crowded conditions and delays. This is an excellent option for most people.

It is possible to change your mind if you have requested a mail ballot and later decide that you would prefer to vote in person. You can vote at the county election office or a satellite location. You can return your blank unopened mail ballot at that time to election officials, or you can simply mark it “return to sender” and place it in outgoing mail when you receive it.

Finally, electors can vote as usual in-person on Election Day, November 3. Wear a mask, bring a ballpoint pen to sign, and vote!

Voter Errors on the Absentee-by-Mail Ballot

A ballot can be rejected if the election office finds that the voter signature is missing or doesn’t match that on file or if the witness signature or witness address is missing. The State Election Commission has instructed election offices not to offer notice-and-cure to voters, a process in which the voter is notified of the defect and allowed to correct these errors. The League of Women Voters and others have filed suit in federal court to require that notice-and-cure be available, so this may change before Election Day. In the meantime, voters are cautioned NOT to attempt to vote a second time if they fear their first ballot will be rejected, since this leaves voters open to charges of attempted fraud.

Voter Concerns and Voter Intimidation

If there are concerns about election procedures or conditions at a polling place, the first step is to consult poll managers, who may be able to answer questions and resolve issues. Also, voters can call 866 OUR-VOTE, a service maintained by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The service is staffed by trained personnel and attorneys from the Lawyers Committee and partner groups and can offer independent advice and assistance. Remember that voter intimidation is illegal everywhere in South Carolina, as it is throughout the United States.  

Finally, Be Patient

Elections are seldom entirely decided on election day. Especially with a high volume of voting absentee-by-mail, final counts may not be available until days after November 3. As the count proceeds, the apparent winner may change. This does NOT mean that the election is compromised. It is normal.

And above all, voters must be informed and encouraged! Together SC members can make a great contribution to this by reaching out to their members and constituencies with clear positive messages!

Lynn Teague

VP for Issues and Action

League of Women Voters