Local party leaders react to SCOTUS ruling on state’s witness signature requirement
Republicans consider the ruling a victory, while Democrats say it only disenfranchises voters
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — If you’re planning on voting through the mail, you now need a witness sign off on your ballot.
The Supreme Court decided Monday night that South Carolina would reinstate a witness signature requirement that has been on the books for decades.
Since 1953, South Carolina voters have had to have someone sign off on their ballot before sending it in the mail.
South Carolina Democratic Party (SCDP) Chairman Trav Robertson says the initial point of having a witness signature was to make it harder for African Americans to vote, while also punishing white supporters for trying to make their voice heard.
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, and more people choosing to vote-by-mail for the general election in November, the future of the witness signature requirement came into question. The General Assembly did not include the witness signature in a bill signed into law by Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC) back on September 16 that expanded the right to vote absentee to all eligible South Carolina voters.
Back on September 19, Fourth Circuit Judge Michelle Childs ruled that a witness signature would not be needed on mail-in ballots due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. This ruling was later reversed by a three-judge panel for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, only to have Childs’ original ruling put back in place by the full panel of judges the next day.
On Monday, the weeks-long battle over whether the witness signature is constitutional culminated in the Supreme Court, where they decided the state should reinstate the requirement.
“It is perfectly constitutional to require witness signatures on absentee ballots,” said Drew McKissick, the Chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party (SCGOP). “If we require people to present a Voter ID when they come to vote in person, it’s not a stretch to ask for enough of a secure measure to have someone witness that you are who you say you are when you return an absentee ballot.”
The Court did say any ballots mailed in before Wednesday without a signature should still be counted. A spokesman with the State Election Commission said 800 ballots in 2016 were rejected because they did not have a signature.
Democratic leaders say the ruling is just the latest attempt by Republicans to alienate voters, and prevent some, including elderly and those who are afraid to leave their homes due to the pandemic, from casting their ballot.”
“It is really sad, quite frankly,” Robertson said. “My mom and dad are both 83, now they’ve got to risk their lives and their health all because Jay Lucas, the Speaker of the House, and the Governor, don’t want to make provisions to do this safely.”
On Twitter, Gov. McMaster supported the Court’s ruling, saying:
“The Supreme Court has once again ruled to protect the integrity of every American voter’s ballot.“
Attorney General Alan Wilson (R-SC) also spoke in favor of the Supreme Court’s decision, saying it protects voter integrity.
Through their Voter Protection Hotline, the SCDP will put a voter in touch with someone in their community that is willing to sign off on their ballot if they can’t find a witness.
South Carolina’s AARP says for voters over 65, which make up a quarter of the state’s three million registered voters, they have to keep their eyes open for anyone to serve as a witness.
“They’re going to have to rely on the neighbor or anyone who’s visiting them, taking care of them, or checking on them. A lot of folks who receive hand-delivered meals, so that’s an option right there for someone to sign a ballot as well,” said Patrick Cobb, the Associate State Director of Communications for AARP South Carolina.
In addition to voting by mail, voters also have the option to vote absentee in-person, or also come to the polling place on Election Day. If a person is afraid that their ballot won’t make it through the mail on-time, they could have someone go to their county election office, and drop the ballot off on their behalf.
Voters who choose to vote in-person absentee have until 5:00 p.m. November 2 to cast their vote at their county’s voter registration office or at a satellite location.