People across South Carolina have much to celebrate with the Palmetto states’ successful primary election, the first conducted after Republicans and Democrats came together to pass comprehensive voting reform that has expanded the opportunity to cast a ballot, while making that ballot more secure.
South Carolina should serve as a model for the nation. The two major political parties in South Carolina came together and tackled a difficult topic that is roiling other states.
While other state legislatures often have been divided into two camps on election integrity, South Carolina’s General Assembly has proved that expanding early voting and combating fraud can be done at the same time.
In a rare, bipartisan show of support, the Legislature recently gave unanimous approval to a sweeping voting-reform bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Chip Campsen and Sandy Senn; and Democratic Sen. John Scott.
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster quickly signed the bill into law, calling it a “major victory for those who believe in free and fair elections.”
“It makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat – making our elections more secure and protecting us from the election day disasters we saw nationwide in 2020,” McMaster said in a tweet after the signing.
A just-released poll authorized by the South Carolina Policy Council, which randomly sampled 606 likely S.C. voters, found that four out of five voters responded positively toward the new law, with a 92% and 59% approval rate among Republicans and Democrats, respectively.
The poll also found that 76% of voters feel positive about the new law’s potential effect on elections.
Among other things, the new law expands voting access by:
- Establishing early in-person voting Monday through Saturday, excluding legal holidays, for a two-week period immediately preceding statewide general elections.
- Requiring each county election board to set up at least one early voting center and as many as seven centers, with accessibility for all voters in the county to the “greatest extent possible.”
- Mandating that early voting centers be supervised by employees of county election boards or the State Election Commission.
The law also tightens a number of absentee voting provisions to better eliminate voter fraud and ballot harvesting:
- Only citizens above the age of 65 can vote by mail without a reason. If you are out of state on election day, sick, or in the military you can vote by mail. Otherwise, you must vote in person on election day or during the in-person early voting period.
- With respect to ballot harvesting, drop boxes and other potential avenues for voter fraud, you must be authorized to turn in a ballot other than your own. South Carolina’s wildly popular voter I.D. requirements apply to all voters including those voting early, by mail or dropping off a ballot.
- The law limits the number of ballots returned by a person in an election to five in addition to his or her own.
- Auditing of elections is now spelled out clearly under law, in a process that both Republicans and Democrats endorse.
- A ban in the law on fusion voting, in which candidates run for the same office for more than one party, will go into effect next year.
Anyone who voted or attempted to vote fraudulently, or to have helped someone else do so, will be guilty of a felony if convicted – up from a misdemeanor – and face a fine ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 and a maximum five-year prison sentence.
“This bill made it easier to vote but harder to cheat,” said Sen. Campsen when contacted recently by The Nerve – an online publication of the South Carolina Policy Council. “And so, when we combined those two components, I think that was the key to getting bipartisan support like we did.”
Campsen, an attorney from Charleston, pointed out that lawmakers received “a lot of input” from state and local election officials to “make sure practically that we’re not putting into law something that can’t be implemented for one reason or another.”
Historically, most voting fraud nationwide has occurred with paper absentee balloting, Campsen said, citing a 2005 report
by what was known then as the Carter-Baker Commission, led by former President Jimmy Carter and ex-Secretary of State James Baker.
“Having more in-person voting, and less paper absentee voting makes your elections more secure,” said Campsen, who noted that Democratic lawmakers in the General Assembly strongly favored the early-voting provisions of the new law.
“I’m pretty confident that what we crafted is going to work.”
“All in all it’s a good bill,” said Democratic Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia attorney who voted for the final amended version, when contacted recently by The Nerve, the SC Policy Council’s journalism project.
“I’m impressed with some of the outreach that’s going on among moderate members of both parties who aren’t looking to rattle the partisan primary sabers.”
When told that the law “allows two weeks of in-person early voting, tightens rules for voting by mail, strengthens criminal penalties for voter fraud and requires auditing of election results,” 80% of S.C. voters say they approve. Only 14% disapprove.
92% of GOP voters and 59% of Democrats approve of the measures, along with 83% of independent voters.
The law is already boosting confidence in South Carolina’s elections, with 75% of respondents saying they believe that “this year’s elections in South Carolina will be fair and will accurately reflect the choices of South Carolina voters” with the measures in place. Only 15% disagree.
An astounding 80% of Republicans, 66% of Democrats and 78% of independent voters believe South Carolina elections will be fair and accurate.
South Carolina lawmakers and Governor McMaster have shown the nation it is possible to find bipartisan support by expanding ways to vote, while also making elections more secure and greatly increased confidence in the results. Other states should take notice.
Dallas Woodhouse is the Executive Director of the South Carolina Policy Council.