By Barney Blakeney
As the June 9 primary elections draw nearer, the importance of absentee voting in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic becomes more apparent. Even more important will be absentee voting, especially by mail, in the November 3 general election. Individuals and organizations are gearing up to tackle the challenge.
June 9 Charleston County Council Dist. 6 Democratic candidate Kylon Middleton said, “Running for office during the coronavirus pandemic has definitely caused our campaign to connect with voters virtually and over the phone. Over the course of the campaign, I have heard concerns from citizens about having to physically go out and cast their ballot in the June 9th Democratic primary.
“That is why I am sharing information and encouraging you to vote absentee. There are a couple of ways to do so: 1) You can call the Charleston County Election Commission at 843-744-8683; 2) You can visit a great website put together by the Charleston County Democratic Party to request your ballot by email; 3) If you cannot do option 1 or 2, you can vote in-person absentee at the Charleston County Headquarters (4367 Headquarters Rd North Charleston SC 29405) beginning Monday, May 11th which will be open Monday – Friday (excluding holidays) from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. If you vote by this method, the Charleston County Headquarters suggests you wear a mask and gloves.”
Charleston County Board of Elections and Registration Executive Director Joseph Debney said, “I believe that the safest way to cast a ballot is through the mail. I expect that the trend for voters to use the absentee process will continue to rise. Our office is committed to ensure that all voters can cast their ballot whether via absentee balloting or by voting at the polls on Election Day.” He noted that as of May 20, 12,679 applications for absentee ballots had been returned. That contrasts with 2,852 applications for ballots returned in the 2016 primary elections.
Political consultant Abe Jenkins said absentee voting, especially for the primary elections, will be critical. Restrictions that allow voters to cast absentee ballots have been relaxed to include voters casting ballots during a state of emergency such as currently exists in South Carolina. All registered voters are eligible to cast absentee ballots for the June 9 primary and runoffs.
Referencing mail-in absentee ballots, Jenkins said, “A lot of people still are concerned about standing in line to vote. But we have to get to a place where people feel comfortable with mail-in ballots. The primary elections will be a test for the November general election,” he added.
Several voter advocate organizations are looking at ways to encourage mail-in voting. Some of the options being discussed include:
1) Mail-in ballot applications to all churches with a point of contact at each church to speak about registering and voting;
2) Full page newspaper ads on the importance of being registered and requesting an absentee ballot; and 3) Use newsletters and Facebook to deliver information about the importance of being registered and voting by Absentee Ballot this November.
Mail-in ballots must be returned to the Board of Elections and Registration and postmarked by June 9.