With Hilton Head Island’s Town Council non-partisan election campaigns beginning in earnest this month, it’s an appropriate moment to stop and reflect on the major achievement our South Carolina General Assembly recently reached regarding election integrity with its new 2022 Election Reform Legislation.
We are all aware of the chaos that was caused by the 2020 general election in many states across our nation. And, while that election was largely without controversy here in South Carolina, voting procedures in some counties (due to COVID-19) prompted a few legal challenges to state election laws and highlighted the disparate ways various officials in our 46 counties handle election operations.
What became clear to our legislature was that even though South Carolina did a good job overall, election commissions in our 46 counties have not all been on the same page. Therefore, down the road, it could become a recipe for disaster with similar headaches about election fraud that has occurred in other states.
The good news is that at a time where debates over elections and voting have been ending up in partisan altercations elsewhere, here in our state Republicans and Democrats were able to unanimously come together in bipartisan fashion to pass and codify our state’s first comprehensive voting reform legislation.
This new legislation expands the opportunity for all South Carolina voters to cast a ballot, while making that ballot more secure.
As Gov. Henry McMaster stated, “This new law makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat.” Indeed, I believe this new South Carolina voting law should serve as a model for the nation.
Among other things, the new law expands voting access by:
• Establishing early in-person voting Monday through Saturday, excluding legal holidays, for a two-week period immediately preceding statewide general elections.
• Mandating that early voting centers be established and uniform application of election regulations be followed in all 46 counties.
• Additionally, the law also tightens a number of absentee voting provisions to better eliminate voter fraud and ballot harvesting:
• Only citizens above the age of 65 can vote by mail without a reason. If you are out of state on Election Day, sick, hospitalized, in jail or in the military, you must make arrangements to vote by mail. Otherwise, you must vote in person on Election Day or during the in-person early voting period.
• Voter I.D. requirements apply to all voters including those voting early, by mail, or dropping off a ballot. And, if you are turning in a ballot other than your own, you must be officially authorized to do so.
• Anyone who voted or attempted to vote fraudulently, or who helps someone else do so is now guilty of a felony, and if convicted faces a fine ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 and a maximum five-year prison sentence.
Some other security measures include expansion of local election audits, regulations for voting machines, instituting voter role maintenance procedures and establishing a voter fraud hotline.
Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.