With campaign season in full swing and COVID-19 as a part of everyday life, many voters may find themselves wondering how they can safely vote in the Nov. 3 election.
During the primaries, voters who went to polls found sneeze guards in front of poll workers checking in voters, social distancing markers and voting machines spread 6 feet apart. These measures will stay the same for the general election. Normal voting will occur at almost all polling places with the same precautions, said Greenville County Elections Director Conway Belangia.
“Voters are not required to wear a mask, but [are] highly recommended,” Belangia said. “Anyone in line at 7 p.m. will be allowed to cast a ballot, no matter how long it takes.”
In addition to in-person voting, South Carolina offers absentee voting rather than a vote-by-mail model. In absentee voting, a registered voter requests a ballot, which may be mailed to the voter, Belangia said.
Absentee voters may also vote in-person at the Greenville County Election Commission office rather than request the ballot to be mailed to them.
Since the election is less than two months away, a traditional vote-by-mail approach, in which every registered voter is mailed a ballot whether or not one is requested, will not be able to happen this year, said Chris Whitmire, SC State Election Commission director of public information.
“It’s too late to implement true vote-by-mail,” Whitmire said. “That is where every registered voter is sent a ballot. Some states have taken years to implement the processes and systems necessary to do that.”
According to the South Carolina State Election Commission website, people who can vote absentee include:
- Members of the military and their spouses and dependents
- Citizens residing overseas
- Physically disabled individuals
- People who will be out of the county they reside in due to school or vacation
- People who cannot make it to the polls due to work on Election Day
- Government employees working outside of the county they reside in
If a voter qualifies for an absentee ballot, the ballot can be returned by mail or in person at the election office, or the voter can authorize in writing a personal representative to return the ballot to the Board of Voter Registration, said Belangia.
“Absentee ballots, mailed out on written request, must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3,” Belangia said. “[The] law says no absentee ballot can be mailed after 5 p.m. on Friday before the election, [which is] really late for possible return, so start early and send the absentee ballot back to the office at least a week before election day.”
Since the voter signs an application to receive the ballot by mail and will have to sign the ballot before it is returned, the two different signatures may be checked against each other to guard against fraud, said Whitmire.
For more information on registering to vote or absentee voting, visit scvotes.gov.
Since this article first ran, the South Carolina General Assembly approved and Gov. McMaster signed a measure to allow all registered voters to vote absentee due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the numbers
Greenville County Absentee Ballots
2016 General Election: 30,000
2020 primaries: 10,000
Statewide Absentee Ballots
2016 General Election: 520,000 with 140,000 by mail
2020 primaries: 190,000 with 130,000 by mail