South Carolina Enacts Emergency Protection for Voting During COVID-19 Pandemic 

May 13, 2020 7:30 pm

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Action Follows Lawsuit by ACLU and LDF

COLUMBIA, S.C. — In a victory for voting rights, South Carolina took steps today to better protect voters in the June 9 primary during the COVID-19 pandemic. The action comes following a federal lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of South Carolina, and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The groups filed a lawsuit last month challenging the state’s failure to take action to ensure all eligible voters can vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are challenging a state requirement that forces people who vote absentee to have an “excuse” to do so, as well as a witness requirement for absentee ballots.

The emergency legislation, signed today by Gov. Henry McMaster, affects the June primary specifically. Every eligible voter can now cite the pandemic as an excuse for voting absentee in the primary in order to protect their health and well-being.

The ACLU and LDF litigation continues in order to ensure voter protections are extended through all elections in 2020, given that COVID-19 will continue for months.

The following reactions are from:

Adriel Cepeda Derieux, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “This is an important victory for South Carolinians who want to vote in the primary without risking their health during COVID-19. We are fighting for this change for the November general election as well, in addition to the removal of the unnecessary witness requirement that continues to force South Carolinians to risk their health in order to vote.”

Susan Dunn, legal director of the ACLU of South Carolina: “We are pleased that the legislature has provided temporary relief to voters, but obstacles remain. The legislation requires a witness signature on absentee ballots which makes voting from a safe social distance impossible for those who live alone. We are asking the courts to close the gap by waiving this requirement and ensuring no one has to choose between their health and their right to vote.”

Deuel Ross, senior counsel at LDF: “No voter should be forced to choose between their vote or their health. We are glad that the South Carolina legislature recognized this fact and took the necessary action to ensure that everyone can vote absentee from the safety of their home for the June primary. This is the relief that our clients sought in filing the case. Still, the work continues to ensure that no voter is forced to break social distancing protocols to obtain a witness for their absentee ballot. Like no excuse absentee voting, blocking the witness requirement is equally vital to ensure safe and fair elections in these unprecedented times.”

The lawsuit, Thomas v. Andino, was filed in U.S. District Court in Columbia, S.C.


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