President Donald Trump says voting by mail is ripe for fraud. But South Carolina lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — eased the requirements this year, allowing all registered voters to participate by mail because of COVID-19.
Following are some of the misconceptions about the process and the security safeguards S.C. election officials say are in place to thwart potential abuse.
There are penalties for criminal acts, including fines and jail time.
Absentee ballots are being mailed this week and should begin to arrive in home mailboxes in the coming days.
Do election offices blindly mail out ballots or absentee request forms?
Contrary to alarms raised by the president and critics in other states, it’s not done in South Carolina.
Every year beginning Jan. 1, voters must re-request an absentee ballot application form for that year’s upcoming races.
No unsolicited ballots ever are sent.
Can outside groups, political parties or other people legally help someone register or apply for an absentee ballot?
This is a tactic utilized by interest groups to motivate “friendly” voters.
Political parties and candidate campaigns are known to feature websites and home-mailings that essentially provide voters with a path to request the application.
Anyone can help a voter request an absentee application, either in writing, by email or by phone. It’s considered legal because it’s the individual voter who ultimately is making the request.
Under state law, there are very few restrictions on helping people register to vote other than you can’t pay someone to register or offer anything of value for doing so.
Providing a stamp or a ride to a polling site is not ordinarily considered a crime.
Who can vote by mail this year?
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were limits on who could vote absentee by mail to include only the sick, people over 65, those on vacation or with job duties and the like.
Now it’s open to all.
As many as 1 million of the state’s 3.4 million registered voters are expected to vote absentee this year.
How do I get an application to receive a ballot?
This is key: You have to apply. A ballot is not automatically generated and sent to you.
When you make the request, your registration information is verified before a blank ballot is sent your way.
The easiest step to begin the process is to visit SCVotes.gov and download the application form indicating you wish to receive a ballot. You will need a printer; nothing is done directly online unless you are a state resident or military member stationed overseas for whom a special internet voting portal is available.
Once your ballot request is filled out, you can hand deliver, fax or mail the form back to your county election office. An unmarked ballot will be mailed to you once your status is verified.
What happens when I receive my ballot?
You can fill out your picks in pen. But you may want to wait before signing, sealing and mailing it.
After a series of rulings and appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked Thursday to decide whether the signature of a witness is required on South Carolina mailed ballots.
The state Republican Party and S.C. Election Commission want to keep the stipulation in place for accountability purposes. Democrats want is relaxed because it would force people together during the coronavirus.
Completed ballots must be received by your local county election office through the mail by 5 p.m. Nov. 2, and in person at a county elections office as late as 7 p.m. Nov. 3, Election Day.
You can’t turn in your absentee ballot at your polling place, the logic being that if you can make it to the polling place on Election Day, you’re not absent.
Does South Carolina allow for drop boxes?
State law prohibits “unattended” drop boxes. But “manned” drop boxes for turning completed early ballots are being set up by various counties around the state for use during advertised business hours.
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You can hand-deliver your ballot to an election official at your county headquarters or one of their temporary satellite absentee voting locations.
What about fakery or forging someone’s identity?
In addition to the layers of protection of providing your age, address, picture ID, Social Security number and other personal information presented when originally registering to vote, officials stress that any deliberate falsehood could be prosecuted.
Someone convicted of “false swearing” in applying to register to vote can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and “must be fined in the discretion of the court or imprisoned not more than three years, or both,” according to state law.
Someone who commits a fraud in any aspect of voting can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and face a fine of up to $500 and a year in prison.
Can you move/register in another state but still try to vote absentee in S.C.?
It is against multiple laws to try to vote in two states.
States share voter rolls to head off this from happening through the jointly accessible Electronic Registration Information Center.
What if someone tries to vote at the polls on Election Day even after requesting or mailing in an absentee ballot?
Election officials look out for this.
If you are sent an absentee ballot, it is identified as being distributed and your name and precinct data information is included in the check-in laptop that poll workers use at your polling site indicating you have chosen to vote absentee.
If you lose your mailed absentee ballot, you may still be able to cast a provisional ballot that is set aside and counted if the lost ballot does not appear by the time the election is certified.
Will my ballot be counted after Nov. 3?
Most absentee ballots will be counted on Election Day.
Due to expected heavy volume, however, it is possible some counties won’t be able to process all of them that night.
Can the dead vote?
There are safeguards against someone using the identity of a deceased person.
The S.C. Election Commission receives monthly data from the state health department’s Bureau of Vital Statistics of people who have died in South Carolina. This list is processed and compared, and voters on the list are made inactive.
The state also gets monthly death data from the Social Security Administration that is used to make deceased voters inactive.
Another safeguard: Every two years, the state sends confirmation cards to any voter who hasn’t voted in four years, which officials hope is acknowledged by survivors. Family members can also report the loss of loved one.
What if someone dies before Election Day?
Technically, their early, absentee ballot shouldn’t count.
If a county election office became aware, they would be required to challenge the ballot. However, it would be unlikely for a county election official to know about a voter who died shortly before Election Day mostly due to the delay in reporting of deaths.
Tracking you ballot
Charleston County voters can follow their ballot through the process by visiting: track.chsvotes.org
Important election information
Friday is the last day to register to vote in-person at your local election office.
Sunday is the last day to register to vote online at http://scvotes.gov.
Monday is final date that mail-in registration must be postmarked.
Sources: S.C. Election Commission, the Attorney General’s Office and local election authorities