S.C. Statehouse

The S.C. State House is pictured.

The South Carolina Legislature plans to return to work on May 12, presumably to allow for an extension to pass the state budget.

Here’s something else lawmakers need to do: work on expanding opportunities for South Carolinians to vote absentee.

The June 9 primary elections are a little more than five weeks away, but the global pandemic caused by the coronavirus is still not over. Anything that can be done remotely, like absentee voting, will help flatten the curve and keep citizens safe.

Our area will be voting on several contested races, including Aiken County Sheriff, Aiken County Council and Second Judicial Circuit Solicitor. House and Senate seats, at the federal and state levels, also are on the ballot.

Currently, state law says that absentee ballots can be cast by voters who aren’t physically able to leave their home, are away from their home county for work or vacation, have to work the entire time polls are open, if they are sick or mourning the loss of a just-deceased relative, or if they are 65 or older. The caveat is that the absentee ballot must be signed and witnessed.

South Carolina doesn’t allow “no excuse” absentee voting or early voting.

The State Election Commission said last week it has “no authority” to delay or deviate from conducting the election because of the pandemic. The group said it is encouraging those who are eligible to vote absentee and are in the process of providing masks and gloves for poll workers and sanitizing materials for polling sites.

According to RepresentUS, which advocates voting by mail, South Carolina is one of seven “stalling states” that has not taken action on absentee voting. The other states are Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.

Neighboring states Georgia and North Carolina allow any voter to request a vote by mail, and a handful of states are allowing temporary vote-by-mail options because of the crisis.

“South Carolina is wasting valuable time to prepare for upcoming elections,” said Josh Silver, co-founder and director of RepresentUs, in an email last week. “Keeping voters safe is not a partisan issue.”

He’s right. Voting is one of our most precious rights, and anything that states can do to get the vote out is strongly encouraged.

In South Carolina, lawsuits have been filed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the S.C. American Civil Liberties Union. The actions seek to expand absentee voting.

Even Marci Andino, the executive director of the election commission, wrote a letter to Attorney General Alan Wilson about the issue. Her letter, in part, asked “whether voters staying home due to the pandemic qualify for absentee voting.”

The deadline to request an absentee ballot for the primary is June 5, but officials encourage voters to make the request at least one week in advance to ensure there is enough time to get the ballot in the mail.

Lawmakers aren’t sure how long they will be in session, but expanding absentee voting is still worth looking into.

The clock is ticking.