COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — With less than two months before the November election, a federal appeals court has reinstated a requirement that South Carolinians voting by mail in this year’s general election must obtain a witness signature for their ballots.
The Thursday court order issuing an administrative stay reverses a ruling last week by a district judge who wrote that the requirement would increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 for several groups of voters.
Attorneys for another group of voters are also worried that a law signed last week to allow no-excuse absentee voting in a state of emergency may not stand up to legal challenges.
More from WSAV’s JoAnn Merrigan:
SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A court decision in South Carolina will uphold the rule requiring a witness signature for those who vote by absentee ballot this year.
“We feel that requiring a witness signature on an absentee mail in vote is not an undue burden for the voters of South Carolina,’ said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.
If you have requested an absentee ballot you will need to make sure you sign your ballot but also that you have a witness who signs the ballot as well.
“So, you vote and they witness it and then it goes in the mail,” said Wilson.
Tens of thousands of additional voters are set to use absentee voting this year because of the pandemic. The South Carolina Election Commission says more than 300,000 absentee ballot applications have been returned to their office for processing and nearly 60,000 ballots have already been mailed out to voters.
Due to COVID 19, the state has also expanded absentee voting to all those who want to request a ballot.
“Along with the accommodations we’re making we also have to make sure we don’t ignore the concerns about election integrity, ” said Wilson. “If there is fraud that is committed we need to be able to investigate after the fact.”
Trav Robertson, Jr. the chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party says the witness rule is an outdated remnant of the days of Jim Crow and potentially dangerous to the health of voters in 2020.
“There is a certain element of our population in this state that can’t get to a witness because it will put their lives at risk,” said Robertson. “So I mean there’s a really serious circumstance here taht the genreal assembly and the courts coudl have taken into consideration but because they’re so hyped up on convicneing the public that there is fraud that they’re extremely short sighted.”
The democratic party sued in an effort to get rid of the witness rule at least this year because of the expectation that so many additional people will be using absentee ballots.
“The fact is the witness rule goes back to a bygone era of Jim Crow when there was an effort to keep African Americans from voting,” said Robertson.
He even said there may be people in 2020 who are nervous about signing as a witness because of all the allegations of potential fraud. “I think the point is to to scare people so they will not be a witness so the vote won’t count,” said Robertson.
Attorney General Wilson however says the witness requirement is not likely to be a “hindrance” to voting.
“We want people to know we have supported the expansion of absentee voting this year because of COVID but having said that there has to be a balance between protecting people’s public health and protecting the integrity of the election process,” said Wilson.