By: Anna Miller
In February 2021, the South Carolina House of Representatives began to consider several fundamental changes to the voting process through the general reform bill, H. 3822. As the temporary measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have expired, representatives have debated extending and even expanding these measures. Reform proponents argued in support of increasing accessibility to absentee voting, including eliminating the requirement that the absentee voter sign their ballot in the presence of a witness, and then get that witness to also sign the ballot. This bill seeks to codify that change and to further increase ease of access to absentee voting. For example, absentee voters would no longer be required to provide a reason for casting their ballot from outside the state- the bill would completely repeal Section 7-15-320 of the 1976 Code, which provided a list of approved reasons for casting an absentee ballot.
In response to concerns over voter fraud expressed by some Republican legislators, the bill includes several security measures seemingly designed to ensure a secure voting process. For example, the bill requires the State Election Commission to match the signature on an absentee voter ballot with the signature on a voter’s registration card. The South Carolina chapter of the League of Women Voters supplied the House Elections Subcommittee with testimony arguing against this provision, claiming that this requirement could be used as a tool for vote suppression, particularly towards disabled voters who have difficulties maintaining a consistent signature. However, to ensure maximum voting accessibility, the bill also requires the State Election Commission to inform a voter if their signature has been flagged as problematic and give them the opportunity to correct the problem within seven days of receiving the notice, a reform applauded by the League of Women Voters.
Another provision proposed in H. 3822 allows same-day voter registration, which has been successfully implemented in twenty-one other states and the District of Columbia. Same-day voter registration permits eligible voters to register to vote on the actual day of an election, rather than in advance as previously required. Additionally, the bill expanded acceptable identification proofs to include college or university-issued identification cards that include a photograph. Augmenting these easy access procedures, H.3822 would also establish ballot drop-boxes open for set, consistent periods of time throughout the week for mail-in ballots. A thirty-day period for early voting, both in-person and mail-in, would also be established, easing the election-day strain and workload for poll workers.
An essential component of H. 3822 requires the Department of Corrections and the Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services to inform convicted felons or persons who were convicted of “an offense against election laws” of their ability to vote once they have completed their sentence. This amendment further requires these departments supply people who have served their sentences with voter registration forms and instructions on how to re-register to vote, either electronically, in person, or through the mail.
H. 3822 continues to be under consideration in the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee’s Election Subcommittee.