The state Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to an early-voting proposal that would allow South Carolinians to cast ballots in the week before an election.
S.C. voters now can cast absentee ballots up to 30 days in advance of an election if they can provide one of 18 reasons, such as a trip, to explain why they cannot go to the polls on Election Day.
Early voting should help boost turnout and shrink long Election-Day lines, especially after a shortage of voting machines and poll workers in Richland County last November led to lengthy waits and some voters casting ballots after midnight, lawmakers said.
“The people in Richland County would hug our necks,” said state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens.
The Senate bill would allow early voting to start 10 days before an election and end after a week. No early voting would be allowed on Sundays.
The bill passed 34-5. It needs a third reading, generally a formality, to move out of the Senate to the S.C. House.
Debate on early voting was drawn out by Republicans, who had blocked the bill in retaliation for Democrats stonewalling a GOP measure that would bar the state from following a federal law on domestic terrorists.
Republicans tried to add provisions to the early-voting bill to require voters to write their birthplace on registration forms, but that move failed.
“Let’s not crowd the bill with all that other nonsense,” said state Sen. John Scott Jr., D-Richland, the bill’s chief sponsor.
A version of the early-voting bill on the House floor would end in-person absentee voting, which Democrats oppose saying it would give people less time to cast ballots. Mail-in absentee voting would remain.
Senators said they would not accept an early-voting bill that ends in-person absentee balloting.
“At the end of the day, we should give voters as much flexibility as possible,” said state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland.
Passage of the early-voting bill paves the way for debate on a bill Democrats had blocked that would prohibit South Carolina authorities from following a 2012 federal law to detain suspected U.S. terrorists. Martin said the bill is based on constitutional principles and court precedent.
“There’s a big difference between nullification and what we’re proposing,” he said.
“In the title of the bill, it says ‘nullification,’ ” he said. “This bill will be a waste of time.”
Courtesy of The Island Packet