CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Georgetown County election officials are worried some mail-in absentee ballots may not be considered valid because of the US Supreme Court’s late decision to require a witness signature on return envelopes.
“There’s concern, and it’s extremely unfortunate that we’ve had to be batted back and forth like this,” Dean Smith, chairman of the Board of Voter Registration and Elections of Georgetown County, said. “I wish that there had been more thought early on at the state level, and they could have alleviated this situation.”
There is also concern that voters have received mixed messaging about the requirement that may mean their ballot will not be counted.
Smith said some mail-in absentee ballots were sent out with a letter telling voters in Georgetown County, at the time the ballot was mailed, a court had ruled a witness signature was not needed.
“The public will be notified of any changes to the witness requirements through the media and at SCVotes.gov,” the letter explained.
But on Monday, the US Supreme Court reversed course and decided a witness signature is necessary for mail-in absentee ballots to be considered valid. However, county elections officials are worried voters may not be keeping up with these changes.
“We were aware that this was possible, and it’s not a good situation,” Chairman Dean Smith said. “Under the court’s order…any ballots received by county officials through October 7th…will be counted regardless of whether the return envelope has a witness signature. If it comes in without it, we can’t do anything about it, and that came from the State Election Commission. Now, we are a little upset about that because we want everybody to have the chance to vote.”
“One day it’s this, one day it’s another. So, to be safe, I had it witnessed,” Georgetown County absentee mail-in voter Margot Ledbetter said.
Under the court’s order, only ballots received by county officials through Oct. 7 will be counted regardless of whether the return envelope has a witness signature.
“The election community in South Carolina feels like, on the witness signature situation, that we are a ping pong ball. We’ve been batted back and forth in the various courts,” Smith said. “All of them are upset by this because we want everybody to vote and we want every vote to count.”
Smith said many in the election community have been fighting for the witness signature requirement to be removed.
“It’s always been an issue,” Smith explained. “There’s no way to verify the witness signature...So, we’ve thought it’s just been useless anyway, but the legislature has not seen fit to act on our request.”
According to SCVotes.gov, to ensure your absentee ballot counts, sign the voter’s oath on the return envelope, have a witness sign and provide their address, and return your ballot before 7:00 p.m. on Nov. 3.
Ballots can be returned in person or by mail, but you should mail your ballot as soon as possible and at least a week before election day to allow time for deliver before the deadline.
Meanwhile, in-person absentee voting in Georgetown County and across the state is expected to reach record numbers.
The line outside the Voter Registration and Elections Office was steady all day Friday, and officials anticipate more of the same through election day.
“The state expects at least a million people to vote absentee,” Smith explained. “We’ve been very busy. We’ve got like 9,000 applications within the county of Georgetown already. We’ve been voting about 500 people a day, in-person absentee. We’ve gotten some of our poll workers to come in and volunteer to help vote people because we’ve just been, the staff couldn’t keep up with it all.”
“One of the reasons I’m here today, I normally work the polls, so I wanted to take the opportunity this week to vote so there’s no challenges during the day of the election for me working the polls,” in-person, absentee voter Elder Ernie Cooper said.
According to SCVotes.gov, you may vote absentee in person up until 5:00 p.m. on the day before the election.
You can also still request an application for a mail-in absentee ballot. The deadline to return your application is 5:00 p.m. on the fourth day prior to the election. However, applying late puts your ballot at risk of not being returned by the deadline.