The organizations are asking the court to block the state from enforcing the requirements while the COVID-19 pandemic is happening and to issue guidance instructing local election officials to count otherwise validly cast absentee ballots that are missing a witness signature for South Carolina’s primary and general elections in 2020. They are also requesting to conduct a public information campaign informing voters about the elimination of the witness and excuse requirements at this time.
The COVID-19 public health crisis has caused concern about how the elections will carry on under lockdown. It became even more of a hot topic when South Carolina and Wisconsin came under heavy criticism for holding elections with no accommodations to protect people.
It was announced this week that the ACLU of South Carolina, American Civil Liberties Union, and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund have filed a federal lawsuit over the state’s failure to take action to ensure all eligible voters can place their vote by mail during the COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, pandemic moving forward. The organizations are challenging the state requirement that forces people who vote through absentee ballots to have a third party witness a signature on their envelope in addition to providing an “excuse” for using the method.
Under the quarantine guidelines, requiring voters to be physically present at traditional polling places would not be safe and works against the advice from public health experts.
“No one should be forced to choose between their life and their vote,” said Adriel Cepeda Derieux, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “It is a false choice. South Carolina can simultaneously keep the public safe and protect democracy, but is refusing to do so. Removing these requirements in the middle of a pandemic is a common-sense solution that protects people’s health and their right to vote.”
“Inevitably, the COVID-19 pandemic will result in voter suppression in 2020 elections unless we put preventative measures into place now,” said Susan Dunn, legal director at the ACLU of South Carolina.
“Without action from the courts, South Carolina’s June primaries will force people to choose between their health and their right to vote, a decision no one should have to make.”