Democrats and Republicans both say they want early voting in South Carolina, but the idea – advocated in seven bills before the Legislature – could be doomed. Lawmakers so far can’t agree how long before an election voters should be allowed to vote. South Carolina does not now have early voting. Instead, it has absentee voting, which allows people to vote for up to 30 days before an election if they meet one of 18 qualifications laid out in state law to vote absentee, such as being 65 or older. However, 31 other states have early voting, where voters can vote for days before election day for any reason.
Democrats tend to favor early voting while Republicans tend to oppose it, and South Carolina’s absentee voting totals show why: More Democrats vote absentee. Twenty percent of South Carolina voters voted absentee last year. Of the 10 S.C. counties that had the highest percentage of absentee voting in 2012, eight went for Democratic President Barack Obama. The 10 counties that had the lowest percentage of absentee voting all voted for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“The general mindset is Democrats use early voting for organization,” said state Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, chairman of the House Judiciary Election Laws Subcommittee. “Republicans use early voting for convenience,” But Clemmons said he thinks S.C. voters are exploiting the absentee voting law, “telling a fib in order to vote prior to the election.” Clemmons has sponsored a bill – a public hearing is set for next week – that would open the polls 10 days before an election for early voting.