South Carolina panel hears bill to expand absentee voting, allow same-day voting


A South Carolina House subcommittee considered legislation Thursday to expand absentee voting.

House Bill 3822, filed Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, the South Carolina Legislature's longest-serving legislator, would expand voting through a 30-day no-excuse-needed period for absentee ballots, eliminate the requirement that mail-in ballots be certified by witnesses and allow for same-day voter registration.

If HB 3822 is adopted along with a Republican-sponsored bill to expand in-person absentee voting during a two-week no-excuses-needed period, it would mark the largest expansion of voting in South Carolina since the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

However, Cobb-Hunter, who has served in the House since 1992, said her bill is likely not to advance. Nevertheless, she said, “We ought to do all that we can to encourage South Carolinians to vote.”

The state's witness requirement is onerous and insulting, Cobb-Hunter said, and it strikes at the heart of democracy when those in power imply they can’t trust voters.

“We trust them when they vote for us, but when we think they are going to vote for somebody else, then our level of trust somehow diminishes,” she said.

HB 3822 also would ensure South Carolinians who have been convicted of felonies be notified their voting rights are automatically restored upon completion of their sentences, probation and parole.

“It’s simply to make sure that men and women that have paid their debt to society understand they are still citizens of this country and all their rights are restored,” Cobb-Hunter said.

The bill would allow no-excuse absentee voting for 30 days before an election. It calls for drop boxes to make delivering absentee ballots easier and a vote-by-mail system.

HB 3822 would allow South Carolinians to register to vote and cast an in-person absentee ballot the same day.

The bill would allow college photo IDs to be used as identification at the polls, which was praised during the hearing by Courtney Thomas, who said, as a student, she frequently moved and rarely had addresses that matched designated precincts on other forms of ID.

“Make my voice heard in the community where I pay my taxes and make my home. I ask all of you to please vote ‘yes’ on the bill because voting should not be hard,” Thomas testified.

No witnesses spoke against it.

None of the three Republicans on the four-member House Judiciary Election Laws Subcommittee asked questions or directly addressed the bill until chair Rep. Jay Jordan, R-Florence, noting the House soon would convene a full session, ended the hearing by saying the bill would be heard again “sometime in the not too distant future.”

“All South Carolinians have the right and opportunity to vote and taking into consideration our responsibility that vote is protected and secure based on the underlying sanctity of that vote,” Jordan said.

The other bill that would expand voting is House Bill 3372, filed by Rep. Brandon Newton, R-Lancaster, who is a member of the subcommittee.

HB 3372 would expand in-person absentee voting by providing a two-week, no-excuse period for all South Carolinians, but it does not expand absentee voting by mail.

Filed Jan. 28, HB 3372 was assigned to the House Medical, Military, Public & Municipal Affairs Committee but has not been heard.

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