South Carolina Voters Given Blanket Permission for Absentee Voting in June Primary Due to Coronavirus Pandemic

South Carolina voters have been given blanket approval to vote absentee in the state's June primary and runoff elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster announced that he had signed an emergency bill making it possible for anyone in the state to cast absentee votes in the upcoming elections.

"Every eligible SC voter can request an absentee ballot to stay safe while exercising the precious right of voting," McMaster, a Republican, said in a tweet.

I’ve signed the bill making it possible for anyone in SC to vote absentee for the June 9 primaries and their runoffs. Every eligible SC voter can request an absentee ballot to stay safe while exercising the precious right of voting. Absentee ballots can be requested via @scvotes.

— Gov. Henry McMaster (@henrymcmaster) May 13, 2020

Both the House and Senate had passed the state proposal on Tuesday in a bid to ensure that no one would have to put their health at risk in order to participate in the June 9 primaries.

The decision to pass the measure comes after Wisconsin lawmakers faced backlash last month when voters were made to wait for hours in long lines to cast their ballots in their own state's primary election, despite the coronavirus outbreak being in full swing.

It also comes following a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of South Carolina, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, demanding that South Carolina allow voters to cast absentee ballots.

In a statement shared with Newsweek, Adriel Cepeda Derieux, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, hailed the state's decision as "an important victory for South Carolinians who want to vote in the primary without risking their health during COVID-19."

Susan Dunn, the legal director of the ACLU of South Carolina, said she was also "pleased that the legislature has provided temporary relief to voters."

However, both ACLU representatives said the fight is not over, with the civil rights union still fighting to see a requirement demanding that absentee voters obtain a witness to cast their ballots removed.

"The legislation requires a witness signature on absentee ballots which makes voting from a safe social distance impossible for those who live alone," Dunn explained. "We are asking the courts to close the gap by waiving this requirement and ensuring no one has to choose between their health and their right to vote."

In a separate statement, Deuel Ross, senior counsel at NAACP LDF, said: "No voter should be forced to choose between their vote or their health.

"We are glad that the South Carolina legislature recognized this fact and took the necessary action to ensure that everyone can vote absentee from the safety of their home for the June primary. This is the relief that our clients sought in filing the case," Ross said. "Still, the work continues to ensure that no voter is forced to break social distancing protocols to obtain a witness for their absentee ballot. Like no-excuse absentee voting, blocking the witness requirement is equally vital to ensure safe and fair elections in these unprecedented times."

Cepeda Derieux said voting rights advocates would also continue to fight for blanket approval for absentee voting to be expanded across the country.

"We are fighting for this change for the November general election as well," the ACLU attorney said.

While the presidential election is still months away, rights groups have said voters should be given no-excuse absentee voting approval so they can exercise the right to vote safely in the wake of the pandemic.

Across the country, U.S. residents have been divided on safety measures put in place from state to state to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In South Carolina, protesters had taken to the streets last month demanding that the government start reopening the economy in the wake of the pandemic.

State officials responded by beginning to lift restrictions, with some stores reopening for business. Earlier this month, McMaster also lifted restrictions on South Carolina restaurants and bars, allowing for venues to reopen for outdoor seating under conditions enforcing social distancing.

As of Wednesday, South Carolina health officials said the state had identified 8,030 confirmed cases of coronavirus, while at least 362 people have died after contracting the virus.

South Carolina
A security guard takes the temperature of a customer outside the Apple Store on May 13, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. South Carolina voters have just been given permission to cast absentee ballots in the state's upcoming primary and runoff elections. Sean Rayford/Getty