Mail-in voting in November can’t wait

This is the second month of our new feature: The Advocacy Challenge. The challenge, however, remains the same: Reach out to your state elected officials to demand mail-in voting for all in November. 

The issue: After passing legislation in May that permitted the use of a “state of emergency” excuse to be used in absentee voting by mail or in person, there has been no action to extend that to the November election. Legislators say it can wait and be discussed in September, but the state Election Commission says it needs time to prepare and it must begin now to be ready for what is expected to be a turnout even bigger than 2008. 

And now we see the problems that will beset elections in the time of COVID. Not enough polling places, not enough poll workers, long lines, long waits, untrained replacements manning new and unfamiliar equipment. All that came together in Georgia where the last person voted sometime after midnight, and, to a lesser degree in South Carolina in general and Greenville County in particular. Greenville Election Director Conway Belangia told reporters: “It will be 10 times worse in November.” 

The state must act now to extend mail in voting to everyone in November and the only way that will happen is if they hear en masse from their constituents. Your task, and our challenge, is simple: Call or write your state representative and state senator and demand that the legislature take all steps necessary to authorize no-excuse mail in voting now while there is time to prepare. 

Talking points: 

  1. The SC Election Commission has warned the governor and legislature that emergency changes must be made to our election process to ensure safe and secure elections. Strategies it mentioned include no-excuse absentee voting including allowing voters to submit ballot requests online, electronic submission of ballots, elimination of the witness requirement, expansion of early voting and voting locations, and mail-in voting. Because we can’t know what the pandemic situation will be in the fall, we also can’t wait until the situation is clear. We have to start now. The commission urged that decisions be made as soon as possible so election officials can be ready.
  2. Adding to the need for expanded and no-excuse absentee voting is the potential reduction in available polling places. The average age of poll workers in the state is 71, putting all of them in a high-risk classification. We should expect a significant reduction in the number of poll workers, thus enabling counties to staff fewer polling places. The polling places themselves may be less willing to open their doors to a mass influx of voters, especially if the COVID situation is continuing or surging. 
  3. Even if the state of emergency is lifted, until a vaccine is available many citizens who have underlying health conditions or older family members may still be avoiding crowded, public places and personal contact. This election is expected to be one of the most important in our history; voter turnout will be high. 

The ask: We appreciate the legislature approving absentee voting exemptions and enhancements for the primary, but we feel it is critical that the legislature move quickly to extend and enhance those changes for the November general election. This is essential to ensure every citizen can vote and that no one has to choose between the health of themselves or a family member in order to do so. 

The challenge: Contact both your state senator and representative (click here if you need to find out who they are and get contact information). Most likely you will speak to an aide. Make sure they take your name and address. Also get their name. Ask them if they are getting a lot of calls on the issue. They may or may not tell you. Tell us how you did. On Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, post a comment on your experience with the #AdvocacyChallengeEveryoneVotes. We may highlight some on social media and use the experiences to encourage others to engage in a more personal and effective way with our elected officials. In your posts, challenge your friends, family, and co-workers to make similar calls. Don’t forget the hashtags!

PHOTO CAPTION: Primary Day in South Carolina and Georgia was fraught with problems from fewer locations, split precincts, incorrect ballots, inexperienced poll workers, to Georgia’s massive problem with new voting machines creating long lines. Photo Courtesy: Atlanta Journal Constitution.

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