Election officials explain process behind mail-in ballots, timeline for absentee voters

Updated: Oct. 15, 2020 at 3:58 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Time is ticking down for absentee voters to request ballots by mail and get them back to election offices for the general election. Voters have until 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 to get their ballots in either in-person or by mail.

County election director Joe Debney says although mail will be accepted until the last hour on election day all voters must request absentee ballots by Oct. 24.

“It’s so important that you make a plan now to go ahead and either vote in person at one of our locations or go ahead and get your request in for an absentee ballot so we can get one to you,” Debney said.

Absentee ballots that have been sent by mail can be returned the same way or dropped off at ballot boxes located at the county’s election headquarters and at absentee voting locations.

Some voters who expressed concerns with the safety of mailing in their votes decided to bring their ballots in themselves.

“We weren’t sure about the whole process,” voter Edward Werntz said “And so if you’re not sure about the whole process then you walk it through yourself.”

“I requested it by mail. We thought at first that it was going to be the safest way with Covid,” voter Laurie Clark said. “But then the opportunity came to drop it off right here at the polling site and that just gave us that much more assurance that our vote was going to be counted.”

Voters can track their ballots online and once they arrive at the election headquarters, Debney said they are stored by lock and key until election morning.

“That box is dated, secured under camera and it stays in that location until election day when we have a ballot security procedure to open those and to go ahead and get those into our scanners,” Debney said.

This week, the Charleston County election commission reported more than 1,300 incorrect ballots had been mailed out.

“For those affected voters that did receive a ballot without the proper County Council race on it, they are all getting new ballots,” Debney said. “Those ballots went out yesterday and so those voters will start to see them in the mail in the next few days.”

Debney said scanners will not allow for two of the same ballot to be recorded. So people cannot mail in a completed ballot then try and show up in person before or during the election to vote again.

“We don’t play around with that and we want to make sure our process is fraud free and that you only get to vote one time,” Debney said.

Charleston county has sent out 60,000 ballots and officials expect to get back at least 40,000 of those ballots before or on election day.

Dorchester County election director Todd Billman said the office has sent out 12,800 ballots and 3,000 have been returned. Billman said the county has not reported any issues with mailed ballots.

Berkeley County election director Adam Hammons said the county has mailed out 18,000 ballots and 8,000 have returned filled out.

“They are coming in constantly throughout the day, folks bringing them in themselves and obviously the mail run,” Hammons said.

Hammons said he recommends voters get their ballots in the mail latest by the Thursday before the election to account for larger numbers.

“We’ve got folks who are mailing them and we’re getting them the next day but you can’t count on that,” Hammons said. “We want people to make sure they’re doing all they can to be safe and get the ballots in with plenty of time.”

More information on absentee voting procedures, ballot tracking and drop off locations for each individual county can be found below.

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