Supreme Court reinstates South Carolina ballot witness requirement

State News

Voters wait in line outside the Richland County election office on the first day of in-person absentee voting in South Carolina on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. A number of counties have polling places where people can vote almost like they would in person on Election Day, instead of having to mail in their absentee ballot. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

WASHINGTON (AP/WSPA) — The Supreme Court on Monday reinstated a requirement that South Carolina residents voting by mail in November’s election get a witness to sign their ballots.

Democrats had sought to have the requirement put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Republicans had defended it as deterring fraud.

While the high court reinstated the requirement, voters have already started returning ballots. The court said that any ballots cast before the court’s action Monday evening “and received within two days of this order may not be rejected for failing to comply with the witness requirement.”

On Tuesday, the South Carolina Election Commission said under the court’s order ballots already received by county officials and those received through Oct. 7 will be counted, regardless of whether the return envelope bears a witness signature.

To ensure your absentee mail ballot counts:

  • Sign the voter’s oath on the ballot return envelope
  • Have a witness sign and provide address. Any other person can be a witness.
  • Return your ballot before 7 p.m. on Nov. 3. Ballots can be returned in person or by mail. You should mail your ballot as soon as possible and at least a week before election day to allow time for delivery before the deadline.

South Carolina has had a witness requirement for absentee voters since 1953. Under the current law, voters returning mail-in ballots swear an oath printed on the return envelope that confirms they are eligible to vote and that the ballot inside is theirs, among other things. The oath has to be witnessed by one other person who has to sign below the voter’s signature and write their address.

Pointing to the coronavirus pandemic, state and national Democratic Party organizations and several individual voters challenged the requirement and other parts of state election law. And a judge blocked the witness requirement before the state’s primary in June.

After the primary and response to the pandemic, state lawmakers made changes to the state’s election law, including allowing all residents to vote absentee in November. But they left the witness requirement in place.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs, an appointee of President Barack Obama, earlier this month put the witness requirement on hold for the presidential election. She wrote that it could increase the risk of some voters of contracting the virus and require other voters already infected with the virus to risk exposing witnesses.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reinstated the requirement before the full appeals court reversed course and put it on hold again.

Approximately a dozen states that require mail-in ballot envelopes to be signed by one or more witnesses or a notary.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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