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South Carolina

South Carolina made good progress in expanding access in 2020, and there are a wide variety of issue areas in which South Carolina has opportunities to improve voter access and continue on the progress made in 2020, the most urgent being removing the “excuse” requirement for mail ballots permanently. These improvements will bring South Carolina one step closer to a more safe, efficient, and voter-friendly election process. As always, while policy is important, effective implementation is just as important.

As of 2021....

No Excuse Required

No Excuse Required

No excuse to vote by mail

Online Mail Ballot Application

Online Mail Ballot Application

Apply for mail ballot online

Robust Ballot Return Option

Robust Ballot Return Option

U.S. mail, drop boxes, vote centers, and more

Prepaid Postage

Prepaid Postage

Postage-paid return envelopes provided

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Accepts ballots postmarked by Election Day

Ballot Tracking

Ballot Tracking

Online method to check ballot status

Signature Verification

Signature Verification

Voter signature verified before ballot is counted

Cure Process

Cure Process

Ability to correct issues so ballot can be counted

Preprocessing

Preprocessing

Election official may process ballot before Election Day

Opportunities

South Carolina should continue their enormous progress in expanding mail voting. By passing legislation to make no-excuse absentee voting permanent, South Carolina can give their citizens the opportunity to vote in whichever manner they find safest and most convenient.
South Carolina can increase voter confidence by allowing voters to track their ballot much like an Amazon package by improving its current ballot tracking system. Advanced ballot tracking systems can proactively notify voters when their ballot takes a new step in the path from being sent to them to finally being counted (or rejected). If a ballot is rejected, these ballot tracking tools can be used as another method to contact voters if there is a signature mismatch or deficiency on their return envelope. This step is perfectly feasible: in fact, many counties in South Carolina already offer this level of tracking.
Creating an online portal for voters to request an absentee ballot not only makes it much more convenient for voters, it also would be a boon to election officials. The system could be built to feed directly into the voter registration system to help verify addresses, collect contact information, and to remove administrative steps (and costs!) to process a large amount of requests. We encourage an integrated process that allows new voters to register, current voters to make changes to their address and make requests for ballots in a seamless manner.
Giving counties more options to use secure drop boxes will increase local autonomy and voter access. Boxes monitored by 24/7 video surveillance are a cost-effective way to reduce strain on the postal system, and boxes are sometimes a preferred method by voters who want an extra bit of reassurance that their ballot makes it to the elections office on time. We highly recommend including provisions to allow for ballots to be received at polling locations and vote centers, as well as other locations deemed necessary by the election officials.
We highly recommend creating vote centers, or polling locations where any voter in the county can vote. This is a way to streamline the system so over time, as the share of the vote cast by mail increases, counties can have fewer overall polling locations, while individual voters will have more voting location options.
Simplifying the return process for a ballot is just as important as simplifying the request process. Ensuring that voters do not need to make an extra trip to the post office is a voter-centric reform that lowers barriers to the ballot box and may increase return rates. Making prepaid postage permanent will also reduce confusion for voters who became accustomed to it in the 2020 election.
Processing mail ballots to get them ready for counting before election day will help South Carolina get faster election results. The state allowed some preprocessing as a result of the pandemic, however the state should make it permanent for all future elections. Preliminary data also suggests that preprocessing helps avoid any blue or red shifts when there are differences in the partisan lean of mail vs. in person ballots, which could increase voter confidence in the results of elections.
As use of absentee ballots increases, it is important to make sure that the ballots received are being filled out by the individuals they were sent to. We recommend implementing signature verification to ensure the security of the election process, as the witness requirements that the state currently has are simultaneously less secure and raise barriers for voters.
In the event that a voter’s ballot is rejected, said voter should have the ability to cure any correctable issues with their ballot quickly and simply to lower rejection rates. As more voters use absentee ballots and, understandably, the number of rejected absentee ballots increases, we recommend implementing a Text2Cure system that allows voters to cure their ballots from their phones.
Expanding accepting of ballots with Election Day postmarks received shortly after election day is a best practice to ensure that voters are given all options to vote their ballot in a timely manner, and one that South Carolina already follows: the already offers postmark acceptance for military and overseas voters. Accepting Election Day postmarks is estimated in most jurisdictions to decrease ballot rejection rates by half.
South Carolina can reduce costs and increase voter convenience by expanding its permanent absentee option, where voters can sign up to automatically be sent an absentee ballot for each election without having to re-apply, to all residents. While this is likely a longer-term goal for the state, it should keep in mind that states experience significant savings by cutting down on the requests they need to process; on average, states save $1 for every request they no longer need to process.

Recent Legislation

As of May 25, 2021

In 2020, South Carolina made a variety of changes to its election system, most notable being allowing voters to vote by a mail ballot without needing an excuse (effectively, since anyone could cite fear of COVID-19 as an acceptable excuse) for the primary and the general election. In anticipation of the increase, the legislature wisely allowed for an extra day for election officials to process mail ballots, though this provision will expire at the end of 2021. For years before the pandemic, some South Carolina counties had drop boxes for ballots, and in the pandemic’s wake more counties adopted them. Additionally, as part of a court settlement, the state agreed to pay for return postage for absentee ballots for the general election. No mail voting related bills passed in 2021.