COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Absentee ballots in South Carolina were turned in without required signatures at a lower rate in the 2020 election than the presidential election four years ago.
About 0.7% of mailed in ballots lacked witness signatures this election, compared to about 1.2% in 2016, according to an analysis of South Carolina Election Commission data by The State newspaper.
More total ballots were rejected this year — 3,134 in 2020, compared to 1,575 in 2016 — but the state allowed anyone to vote absentee by mail without an excuse because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than three times as many mail in ballots were received for this election, according to the commission’s data.
South Carolina’s law that a witness sign a mailed in ballot was fought in court this year. A federal judge overturned the requirement, but her ruling was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Election officials did not toss out ballots without the signature submitted before or up to two days after the early October ruling.
But there were some South Carolina counties where there were sharp increases in rejected ballots because officials specified voters could not be given a chance to correct them if they did not get a witness signature.
Aiken County rejected two ballots in 2016 after giving voters a chance to add missing signatures. The county rejected 107 in 2020, officials said.
Clarendon County went from no rejected ballots in 2016 to 79 in 2020 because workers could not contact voters who did not follow the directions, county elections director Shirley Black-Oliver told the newspaper.
“It was quite unfortunate,” Black-Oliver said. “But we have to follow the laws that are set forth.”
In all, 4,378, or less than 1% of all the mail in ballots in South Carolina in 2020 were rejected. About three-quarters were for lack of a witness signature. Most of the rest came in after Election Day. A few lacked the signature of the voter, according to state Election Commission data.
The commission thinks in a way, the confusion caused by the court case meant more voters were aware they needed a witness signature and that sent the rate of rejected ballots down, Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said.
“There was a time when you couldn’t turn on a TV or open a newspaper without reading about this requirement, and I think it had to have a positive impact on voter education about this issue,” Whitmire said.