COLUMBIA, S.C. –While voters in North Carolina and Georgia have already started early voting, those in South Carolina can vote now only if they meet one of 15 reasons to vote absentee. But South Carolina lawmakers say they’ll file bills next year to allow early voting in the state.
35 states and the District of Columbia allow no-excuse early voting. Three more states–Colorado, Oregon, and Washington–do all their voting by mail, which eliminates the need for early voting. South Carolina is one of six states with in-person absentee voting, but voters have to meet one of the requirements to vote absentee, like being 65 or older, physically disabled, or unable to vote on Election Day because of work obligations.
Mary Mosley voted in-person absentee Tuesday in Columbia because she’s over 65. She hopes lawmakers will pass early voting. “I believe you could get more people to vote if they could come in just any time and vote, instead of having to stand in line for a long time,” she says.
Sen. John Scott, D-Columbia, has sponsored bills in previous years to create early voting in South Carolina and says he’ll try again next year. He says it’s almost impossible for a lot of working parents to get to their polling places before or after work when they have children to drop-off or pick-up from day care or school.
An early voting bill introduced in the SC House last March never made it out of committee, despite having bipartisan support. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, was one of the co-sponsors. “I’m a strong supporter of early voting simply because it allows citizens to participate in the process as conveniently as possible. We ought not, in my opinion, be putting barriers to voting,” she says. “To be an industrialized country, we have some of the lowest voter participation rates in the world. We ought to all be working to try to improve that. Early voting, in my view, works toward that end.”
Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, was another co-sponsor and thinks early voting just makes sense. “They don’t want the hassle of waiting in line for hours, but at the same time they want to have their voice heard,” he says.
The main argument against early voting is that new developments can pop up just before Election Day, or new information can come out, that might change some people’s votes, and if they’ve already voted early it’s too late. Another argument is that one of the purposes of having one Election Day is to have the community come together, seeing each other and interacting at their polling places.
The State Election Commission says absentee voting is running 15 to 20 percent ahead of the last presidential election. Rep. Cobb-Hunter says convenience may be one reason, but she can think of another. “Because there is so much going on about the elections being rigged and all of that, I think a lot of people are just trying to take advantage of our absentee voting process so they can ensure that their votes are indeed counted,” she says.