Absentee witness signature rule nixed again

Sam Spence file photo

The U.S. Court of Appeals overruled its previous ruling late Friday, once again throwing out the South Carolina requirement for absentee-by-mail voters to obtain a witness signature for their ballots to count in the November general election.

With county election offices preparing to mail absentee ballots in the coming days, officials are advising voters to get their ballots signed by a witness regardless of how the legal wrangling shakes out.

“The State Election Commission is advising that the voter should still try to obtain the witness signature in case it is appealed again,” said Joseph Debney, the executive director of the Charleston County Board of Elections and Voter Registration.

The election commission website advises: “At this time, a court has ruled you do not need a witness signature on your absentee return envelope for your ballot to count. However, it is possible this court ruling could change. The safest practice at this time is to have your signature witnessed. The public will be notified of any changes to the witness requirement through the media and at scvotes.gov.”

Debney’s office will begin mailing absentee ballots to voters who have requested them beginning Oct. 2. In-person absentee voting begins statewide Oct. 5.

Republican legislative leaders, along with the South Carolina Election Commission, appealed a U.S. District Court ruling Sept. 18 that nixed the requirement for absentee voters by mail to have a witness sign their ballot. District Court Judge Michelle Childs granted a request from South Carolina voters to have the requirement suspended for the November election out of an abundance of caution over the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Sept. 25 order granted a rehearing in front of the federal Court of Appeals, vacating the Sept. 24 ruling that put a stay on Childs’ order. It is unknown if the court could change course again.

The Republican-led legislature passed emergency voting rules this month that loosened some absentee voting rules, but did not eliminate the witness signature.

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