The League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area is urging elected officials to take action to safeguard the 2020 elections in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
On June 9, voters across South Carolina will choose political party candidates for national, state, and local offices in the State Primary Election. These primary elections are important because they will determine who will be on the ballot in November’s general election. This hasn’t changed, but the conditions voters will face to vote could be drastically different. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to stifle participation, as voters face the choice of risking their health by going to the polls, battling what can be a frustrating absentee voting process, or foregoing their most fundamental duty as citizens, to vote.
The League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area has been listening to election officials, including State Election Commissioner Marci Andino, who have publicly registered their concerns for the impact the pandemic could have on the health of voters and election workers, as well as the effect on voter participation. For instance, many of Charleston County’s poll managers have already declined to work the June 9 primary because of health concerns, meaning polling locations could be drastically understaffed or consolidated.
As a non-partisan civic engagement organization, the League of Women Voters has asked S.C. legislators from from Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester to move to make immediate accommodations to voting procedures to ensure voters can safely participate in the elections.
The League, as part of their Voter Access Campaign, has asked legislators to implement the following procedures to safeguard our 2020 elections:
Expanded Absentee Voting/Vote by Mail
- Implement the use of no-excuse absentee voting so that voters can participate safely from their own homes. Alternatively, add a temporary “Social Distancing” or similar reason to the current list of 18 reasons why voters may request an absentee ballot. Add an excuse that allows
- Simplify procedures for requesting, receiving, completing, and returning absentee mail-in ballots while maintaining the security of the voting system.
Note: Several states are considering or have adopted vote by mail and other measures to safeguard the elections. For example, West Virginia has already decided to mail all voters an absentee ballot. Texas has taken action by allowing COVID-19 to count as a disability reason for needing a mail-in ballot.
Early In-Person Voting (where health and safety protections permit)
- Expand options that allow voters to cast ballots early, including establishing voting hours on the weekend before Election Day.
- Educate the public about options to vote early and encourage voters to take advantage of this policy.
- Increase the safety of voting in-person by providing resources for additional voting facilities and more poll workers
Address Election Day Voting Concerns (where health and safety protections permit)
- Make the necessary adjustments so that polling places adhere to CDC guidelines.
- Provide additional resources to county election offices to secure voting facilities and more poll workers in a time of expected shortage of both.
Additional Time for Processing and Counting Absentee Ballots
- Give counties additional time for processing and counting absentee ballots to ensure all votes are counted and reported. This may include flexibility to open and scan absentee ballots early.
Enhanced Voter Education
- Provide adequate resources to enable state and county election officials to undertake robust voter education campaigns around updated election procedures, particularly in communities of color, low-income communities, and communities at high risk for COVID-19 infection.
- New federal funding under the Help America Vote Act and additional state emergency funding set aside by legislators should be spent transparently and effectively to allow voters to safely participate in their democracy.