David M. Rubin
REPUBLICANS TO ABSENTEE VOTERS: "DISAPPEAR!"
If Republicans had a time machine, they would take us back to Election Day in South Carolina in the 1950s, a Norman Rockwell experience. Voters, mostly White, would show up in person at the polls, wait in orderly lines, greet their friends, and cast a paper ballot. Voting would end by 7 pm and winners would be announced before midnight.
There would be no early voting, and only a handful of people would be permitted to vote by absentee ballot, mostly those in the armed services or working overseas.
Sadly for Republicans, those days are gone. Expanded early voting and absentee voting are becoming the norm. In Oregon, all active, registered voters automatically receive a ballot to fill out at their convenience. They return it by mail or drop it off in a special collection box. That has been the case for two decades. No one in Oregon goes to polling places anymore. There are none. Colorado, Utah, Hawaii, and Washington State are moving in the same direction.
But not South Carolina. Not even close. Proposed House Bill H.4622 and proposed Senate Bill S.113 suggest that what Republicans intend to do this term is make absentee voting as fraught and complicated as planning a wedding. Changes proposed in these bills will reinforce cumbersome requirements already in the law or make those requirements even more burdensome.
Republicans seem to think that absentee voters are all fraudsters who must be deterred, caught and punished.
To discourage absentee voting, our Legislature will be requiring voters to jump through many hoops correctly or risk that their ballots will be rejected outright or set aside as "provisional." If these Republican bills pass, here is the gauntlet we will all have to run to vote by absentee ballot:
FIRST, you must belong to a specific group to vote absentee: persons who cannot get to the polls because of injury or illness; persons out of the country; poll managers and watchers; persons in jail awaiting trial; persons 65 and over; and some others. A large percentage of voters are not eligible to vote absentee, unlike Oregon.
SECOND, assuming you qualify, request an absentee ballot from your county board of elections. You must do this no earlier than 78 days before the election and no later than 11 days.
THIRD, provide proof you are who you say you are by supplying a voter registration number, a driver's license number, or a state-issued ID number, along with the address to which the ballot should be mailed. Hope that this address matches the one on file with the state.
FOURTH, if you want the ballot mailed to a different address, send a written letter to the county board that includes proof of your identity.
Assuming you have made it this far in the process, mark the ballot for your favored candidates and move to Step Five.
FIFTH, sign the ballot in the space provided and swear an oath that you are who you say you are and that in casting the vote you have not received any "undue influence," whatever that might mean. Perhaps from CNN or the Post and Courier, or a candidate? One can only imagine the potential litigation over this proposed change to the law.
SIXTH, in signing the ballot you must have a witness, and the witness must sign the outside of the return envelope. No witness can perform this task for more than five voters! Why is the limit five? How will a county catch a serial witness? Why is a witness necessary at all?
SEVENTH, include your identification number once again or the ballot will become provisional.
EIGHTH, mail back the ballot, or take it to the county's election office, or, if the county chooses to provide conveniently-located drop boxes, use one. (I will take bets on the availability of drop boxes.)
NINTH, if you ask someone else to deliver your ballot, you must complete another signed authorization form for that person.
TENTH, get the ballot to the county one way or another by 7 pm on Election Day, but NOT by taking it directly to a polling place available only to "live" voters. You may have to drive well out of your way to the county's election headquarters.
Texas, naturally, suggests where this Republican Rube Goldberg process for absentee voting is heading. The Washington Post reported in January that because of changes to absentee voting laws, fully HALF of 700 mail-in ballot requests in Travis County (where Democratic-leaning Austin is located) had been rejected.
Clerks in Harris County (where Houston is located) have rejected 16 percent of applications because they didn't meet new standards or contained information that didn't match voter rolls.
If this weren't bad enough, the clerk's office in Travis County has been telling angry voters that it doesn't have enough information from the Secretary of State to advise them on how to fix their rejected ballot requests.
Is this where the Republican Legislature in South Carolina is headed? Will we be Oregon, or Texas? Will only the most tenacious be able to file a "correct" absentee ballot? Or, as Republicans hope, will potential absentee voters give up in frustration?
If we did have a time machine, we could send the Republicans back to the 1950s to vote for Ike, and the rest of us could join Oregon in the 21st century. If only.