Supreme Court grants request to require witness signatures on absentee ballots in South Carolina

SC Supreme Court says witness signature required

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTV) - The Supreme Court has granted a request by South Carolina election officials to reinstate the witness signature requirement on absentee ballots. The decision was made pending appeal.

While the high court reinstated the requirement as a lawsuit over it proceeds, voters have already started returning ballots.

As an exception, the court says that any ballots cast before the court’s action Monday evening “and received within two days of this order may not be rejected for failing to comply with the witness requirement.”

Officials filed an emergency request last week after a judge overturned the requirement for a witness signature on absentee ballots in South Carolina for a second time.

There are some voters afraid their family members could risk their health trying to vote. “It was very difficult for our family because she was our matriarch," says Tynetta Moore, whose grandmother died from Covid-19 complications.

Moore did not have to catch Covid-19 to feel the impacts of the disease. Her grandmother, affectionally called Ms. Dot, passed away recently. “It’s bittersweet because she’s not in pain but at the same time it’s another life that was lost," says Moore.

Moore does not want that to happen to any of her other older family members. It i why she was initially excited none of them would need witness signatures to vote. She worries now that they could be exposed trying to get their vote counted.

“It’s not even about trusting people because there are people out there who may be carriers of covid and may not know," she says.

Since this ruling is from the Supreme Court, this is the last ruling and will not change.

That new ruling was handed down Sept. 25, according to the South Carolina Elections Commission. It meant a witness signature was not required on absentee ballots returned by mail in the state.

Here’s a breakdown of how we got to this point:

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed an expansion of absentee voting that will allow any South Carolinian to vote absentee citing the COVID-19 pandemic.

A short time later, a federal lawsuit was filed asking for the required witness signature on an absentee ballot to be waived due to coronavirus concerns.

Saturday, Sept. 19, U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Childs decided to waive the signature requirement for the November election.

But the following Tuesday, Republican lawmakers and the South Carolina State Election Commission filed an appeal to that decision.

The United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the appeal Thursday, Sept. 24.

Just one day later, that decision was reversed -- meaning the signature was not currently required on absentee ballots. But now, with the Supreme Court’s decision to stay, witness signatures are again required on absentee ballots.

“We are seeking quick resolution of the matter to alleviate confusion and provide voters with clear instructions as soon as possible,” state election commission officials said in a statement. “The SEC will continue to notify the public of any changes to the witness requirement through the media and at scVOTES.gov.”

Republicans have cited concerns over election security as the reason they want the signature requirement to remain in place.

The South Carolina Elections Commission says the court case is ongoing and is subject to change.

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