S.C. Gov. McMaster signs bill expanding absentee voting due to COVID-19 pandemic

Updated: Sep. 16, 2020 at 5:38 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTV/AP) - South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has signed a bill to allow all voters in the fall to cast absentee ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The South Carolina House of Representatives passed the bill with a 115 to one vote Tuesday, sending it to the governor’s desk.

The bill is similar to what was signed into law for the June primaries. It would allow every registered voter in the state to vote absentee.

Gov. McMaster was joined by members of the General Assembly for a ceremonial bill signing of H. 5305, COVID-19 Absentee Voting Bill on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

The House started a two-week special session Tuesday by debating a bill already passed by the Senate earlier this month to expand voting access.

The legislature gaveled in following calls by two separate groups on statehouse grounds that morning: advocates pushing for greater voting protections, and conservative grassroots groups urging leaders to fully reopen the state.

The proposed changes to voting rules fall short of recommendations made by the head of the state Election Commission to legislative leaders in July.

Members of the House voted to keep the witness signature requirement intact.

Some representatives on the House floor, who argued against witness signatures and ballot drop boxes, said election integrity was at stake.

“So the person is who they say they are because they have that witness signature right?" asked one representative.

Others argued the pandemic overshadows the normal practices.

“We also have a duty that when they’re exercising the right to vote they’re not risking their lives to do it," says another representative.

The amendment debate went on for hours ending in both getting tabled. Mary Ann Hudson, Lancaster County Voter Registration Director, was holding her breath for the entire bill. It is something she has been doing for a month.

“Really we were hoping this would have been taken care of back in August," says Hudson. "It would have been made a lot easier but now we just deal with it.”

The passed bill helps Hudson’s team count absentee ballots even quicker and gives people a strict date - Oct. 24 - to have their absentee applications in. The changes came later than she wanted but help her and her team make sure every vote counts.

“Whatever they tell us to do we’re going to do because we’re gonna try our best to make this election successful," she says."

Copyright 2020 WBTV. All rights reserved. The Associated Press.