CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The coronavirus created chaos ahead of the presidential elections.
To help keep voting safe, state leaders expanded how people could vote by allowing anyone to vote absentee without an excuse. The no-excuse absentee voting paved the way for a record-setting voter turnout on Nov. 3 with 72.1% of registered voters casting ballots.
However, Gov. Henry McMaster does not expect the changes to be renewed for the next election. The governor’s communications director, Brain Symmes, says the pre-pandemic system worked just fine.
“We needed to accommodate for the virus this year and made some important changes because of it. But in the absence of a pandemic, he doesn’t think there’s any reason to change what the state has done in the past. It has proven to be effective,” Symmes said.
Voting advocacy groups like SC Solid argue that expanding voting opportunities only makes it easier for people to participate in the democratic process.
De’Ontay Winchester is the parliamentarian of SC Solid. He points to the record-breaking voter turnout as evidence.
“I do believe the changes to the election, namely being able cast mail-in ballots and early ballots did drive voter turnout,” Winchester said. "I believe the more options individuals have to cast their ballot, the better it is for democracy. The more everybody can have their voice heard, the better we are as a nation.
College of Charleston political science professor, Dr. Gibbs Knotts, says he actually expected voter turnout to be higher considering more than a million people had cast their votes ahead of election day.
“Mail-in voting was much easier. You had these four satellite locations that were open that made it pretty convenient to vote and then just the normal election day voting,” Knotts said.
This throws into doubt if it was expanded voting options that drove voter turnout or if the election itself that motivated people to vote at a higher level than ever before. There are a number of reasons why the other 28 percent of voters didn’t turnout. Knotts says voter fatigue may be to blame.
“We go to vote more than most other countries. I think people are turned off by politics,” Knotts said. “I for one want to see as many people voting as possible. It’s good for our system. It creates more buy in. Politicians are held more accountable. I’d like to see us get 80-90 percent.”
Complicating all of this is the fact that around 5,600 votes were unable to be counted because of various rules.
Of those 4,106 were mail-in ballots. 428 were not signed by the voter, 3,076 did not have a witness signature, which was required for all ballots received after Oct. 8. 602 mail-in ballots were not counted because they were received late.
Winchester says confusing rules and mixed messaging led to a lot of people not knowing if they needed a witness signature or not.
There were also 1,583 provisional ballots uncounted as of Monday. The top three reason for those ballots to not be counted were: voting at the wrong precinct (514), registering too late (496) and not providing proper identification (103).
Chris Whitmire with the State Election Commission says those were the numbers as of Monday and they are likely to grow as late ballots trickle into county offices.