South Carolina GOP tries to block safer voting — and fails


Democrats are celebrating the fact that South Carolina voters 'will not be forced to choose between putting their and their families' health at risk' for the upcoming primary.

South Carolina Republicans appeared to admit defeat this week, passing legislation allowing any voter to request an absentee ballot for the upcoming June 9 primary without an excuse, the State reported.

South Carolina's GOP-led legislature passed the emergency legislation just hours after a coalition of Democratic groups argued before the state Supreme Court to allow no-excuse absentee voting. The law is only in effect until July 1, meaning the expanded access to vote-by-mail would not be available for the November election.

The lawsuit, brought by the South Carolina Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, sought no-excuse absentee voting for both the June election as well as the November general election.

The lawsuit was opposed by the South Carolina Republican Party.

"[Democrats] should be focusing their efforts on lobbying ... for a change in the law, not this court," it argued in an earlier court filing.

South Carolina voters "will [no longer] be forced to choose between putting their and their families' health at risk and casting their ballot this June," Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), chair of the DCCC, said in a statement on Wednesday celebrating the new legislation.

When asked if the lawsuit would continue in the meantime, given that the GOP-led legislation only covers the June election and not the one this fall, a DCCC spokesperson said in an email that they would "continue to fight for voters' rights in November."

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster is expected to sign the legislation.

The development in South Carolina comes as Republicans across the nation are attempting to suppress votes by forcing people to choose between protecting themselves and casting a ballot.

In Wisconsin, state Republicans opposed an effort by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to move an April 7 election and allow more time for vote-by-mail, forcing thousands of state residents to vote in person during a pandemic. Multiple people have since developed COVID-19, including poll workers and some National Guard members, potentially as a result of that decision.

In Missouri, Republican Gov. Mike Parson said that the coronavirus crisis was not a valid excuse to request an absentee ballot, calling the push for safe elections "more a political issue than it is anything."

"This is a Democrat-Republican issue, and that's where this is all headed is to a political answer," he said last month. "There will be time to talk about the elections in November and August, but now's not the time for that."

And in Vermont, Republican Gov. Phil Scott is blocking a plan by Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos to send absentee ballots to every registered voter in the state.

"We talked about my concerns, in terms of printing ballots for November and I would only offer that you can't print ballots until you have a primary, and they’re going to have to wait at least a couple weeks after the primary before you print anything, because of the independents and so forth as well," he said earlier this month.

He added that he "didn't ask to be put in this position," referencing a law that allows the secretary of state to "change election procedures during the pandemic" with his final permission, the State noted.

Donald Trump, who case his own absentee ballot earlier this year, has vocally opposed efforts to expand absentee voting, claiming without evidence that vote-by-mail is "fraudulent" and "dangerous."

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and Trump's likely challenger in November, called Trump's opposition to safer, easier voting mechanisms "un-American."

On Tuesday, Democrats in Congress, led by Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Reps. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Marcia Fudge of Ohio, introduced voting rights legislation at the federal level that would ensure no-excuse absentee voting for every citizen of every state.

"We must make sure the pandemic does not impede full, unfettered access to the ballot box," Fudge said in a statement.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.