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COLUMBIA, SC (FOX Carolina) - The South Carolina Elections Commission said they are encouraging voters to make their concerns about the November elections known to lawmakers, as the General Assembly and governor will would have to act to amend state law to allow for more absentee voting.

"This is one of our biggest concerns at this point - we don’t know what the rules are going to be in November," said SCEC spokesman Chris Whitmire.  "The S.C. General Assembly expanded absentee to cover all voters in the primaries and runoffs, but those rules expire on June 30.  A federal court ruling also removed the witness requirement for an absentee by mail ballot, but that ruling applied only to the June 9 and June 23 Primaries and Runoffs.  As of July 1, rules will return to the way they were prior to the pandemic and no changes to election procedures will be in place. 

Whitmire said that with the number of COVID cases rising at record levels, election officials are more concerned than ever about the virus' impact on November. 

"We don’t know if the General Assembly will again expand reasons or make any other changes, and if any of the several pending court cases will result in any changes," Whitmire said.

Whitmire added that if lawmakers and the governor take action to expand absentee or allow for for mail-in ballots, that it would take the SCED some time "to implement the changes necessary to accommodate such a major change in the statewide voting dynamic."

"We will need time and resources for planning, buying equipment, implementing systems, and just as importantly, educating voters on these potential changes," Whitmire said.

We reached out to the SCEC after a group of South Carolina voters announced Monday that a petition launched by a Taylors woman, asking for the governor to extend absentee voting to all voters in South Carolina for the November elections, will be delivered to Gov. Henry McMaster on July 1, when the current provisions for absentee voting expire. More than 1,800 people have signed the petition thus far.

Whitmire said during the June primaries, more people voted absentee in South Carolina than any previous primary. Nearly 200,000 voters cast absentee ballots in June, and approximately 70 percent was by mail.

"Let’s extrapolate that increase and change in dynamic to November 2020.  We know that in the last presidential election in 2016, more than 500,000 people voted absentee.  Approximately 30% was by mail (140,000).  If we see the same percentage increase and same change in the mail/in person absentee dynamic in November as we saw in June, that would mean more than 1.5 million absentee voters and more than a million by mail ballots," Whitmire explained.

He said the record for absentee by mail in the state is approximately 140,000, and that was set during the 2016 General Election.

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