Local S.C. Senators Shane Massey and Tom Young are offering support to a proposal that would give South Carolinians a chance to vote before election day without having to cast an absentee ballot.
The proposal is intended to offer more flexibility to voters by allowing them to cast a ballot during a seven-day period before an election without having to list any excuse associated with voting absentee.
Currently, S.C. voters can cast a ballot up to 30 days before an election, but only by voting absentee and listing one of a variety of excuses to explain why they aren’t able to go to the polls on election day.
Massey and Young, both Republicans, joined 32 other S.C. Senators last week in support of a second reading of a bill establishing early voting procedures.
Massey noted that he’s been an advocate of early voting since he arrived in the senate.
“It’s a convenience factor,” he said, explaining the bill would create early voting starting 10 days before and ending three days prior to an election. No voting would be allowed on Sundays.
Massey added that because the state of Georgia allows early voting, confusion sometimes exists about when a ballot can actually be cast in the days leading up to an election among voters in border counties like Aiken.
“On television, you’ll see people standing in line four or five days ahead of the election and then we’ll have people in Aiken trying to go vote because they see it on TV,” he said, noting Georgia’s voting laws. “Then they realize we don’t have early voting.”
He believes third and final reading of the bill will take place sometime this week, likely during Wednesday’s session.
“Usually, if there’s going to be a fight on something it’s on second reading. So third reading is typically a formality, but that’s not always the way it is.”
Young was more cautious in his support of the bill, explaining there are concerns among Republican Party members about the length of the proposed early voting period.
“I think it’s a worthy idea. We just have to have a comfort level with the amount of time that the polls are going to be opened before Election Day,” he said, adding some party members would like to see a shortened time frame.
If approved on third reading by the Senate, the bill would move to the S.C. House of Representatives for consideration.
Michael Bond, deputy director of Aiken County Registration and Elections, said he believes implementing early voting would drive more people to the polls. He noted while the requirement to list an excuse to vote absentee is essentially based on the honor system, a downside is that every ballot must be sent through the mail, possibly delaying delivery.
S.C. Election Commission Spokesman Chris Whitmire said absentee voting actually doubled last year, indicating voters are using it as a “de-facto” early voting period.
By implementing early voting, he added, election officials wouldn’t have to deal as often with the at times “cumbersome” absentee ballot process.
“They could just look at the registration list and allow them to vote,” he said.