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South Carolina: Another Wisconsin?

By Steve Hamelman

South Carolina, which has a statewide primary election scheduled for June 9, needs to quickly devise and approve a vote by mail process for its June 9 primary election to avoid a repeat of the Wisconsin April 7 fiasco and make certain everyone is able to vote, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

That election is a harbinger of the harmful effect the coronavirus could well have on all elections, including the big one in November, the most consequential election in our lifetime.

Concerns about the pandemic compelled many Wisconsin voters to cast a mail-in ballot. But Republicans found a way to invalidate, even to prevent, their votes.

As Charles Sykes reported in Politico, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, with a 5-2 Republican majority, overturned Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ last minute order to postpone the election, thereby giving incumbent conservative justice Dan Kelly a better chance of holding his seat in the contentious race for a supreme court position.

The Badger State’s vote for the Democratic presidential nominee was trivial by comparison—even moot now that Senator Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the race. (Note: as of Sunday morning April 12, five days after the election, poll totals were not in.)

Because of that blatant politically-motivated action by Republicans, Wisconsin voters who wanted to exercise their right to vote were forced to risk their health by standing on line at polling places in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Variations on the Wisconsin meltdown could occur nationwide, including South Carolina:

(1) if American voters allow the corruption and inefficiency seen in Wisconsin to taint the remaining state primaries and the general election;

(2) if states don’t extend absentee voting deadlines and adopt alternatives to voting in person in order to minimize the threat of Covid-19 infection at polling stations. Thousands of Wisconsin citizens did not receive their absentee ballots (because the U.S. Post Office was unable handle the high number of requests), and thousands of returned ballots were postmarked too late to count;

(3) if other red state supreme courts follow Wisconsin’s example of rejecting its governor’s bid to delay the vote, a decision upheld by the United States Supreme Court, which overturned a lower court order extending absentee balloting in the state;

(4) if, in short, Republican-leaning judiciaries permit conservatives to decide who votes and who doesn’t.

South Carolina . . . are you listening?

Alarmed by the situation in Wisconsin, The League of Women Voters of South Carolina (LWVSC) has published an “action alert,” exhorting citizens to “take steps” to prevent the same “heartbreaking and unconscionable” debacle from happening here in the federal, state, county, and municipal elections scheduled for June 9.

Unless we take preventative measures now, states the LWVSC, South Carolinians will likely face the same postal delays, partisan politics, and general confusion that defrauded thousands of Wisconsinites of their constitutional right to vote.

Emergency methods are needed, says the LWVSC, “to protect the health and safety of voters and election workers.” They’re also needed to make sure everyone who wishes to vote can do so and their votes will be counted.

The LWVSC urges citizens to contact Governor Henry McMaster as well as our state legislators, asking them to implement alternatives at once to the normal ballot process. Absent a plan for a secure process of voting by mail, the potential for flawed results is high.

Horry County Democratic Party Chair Don Kohn echoed the LWVSC’s message, saying “our elections are too important to trifle with or fall victim to partisan considerations.”

Please Write Now

The LWVSC offers practical tips on how to craft a letter (as opposed to calling state offices: staff have been sent home; no one will answer telephones).

The LWVSC’s advises letter writers to

  • begin with the phrase “I am writing as your constituent”
  • emphasize their belief that health safety is the paramount reason for voting by mail and for applying online for absentee ballots
  • insist on a deadline extension for sending/counting the mailed ballots
  • emphasize the anxiety among family and friends in one’s home town re: the safety of the process for all involved
  • include phrases such as “I’m counting on your support” and “I will be watching for your positive action on this”
  • “express your outrage” in the event that your representative/governor does nothing to preempt a Wisconsin-style failure to act expeditiously or fairly.

For more tips and addresses, consult the league’s complete action alert.

It Can Be Done

If we take Maryland as an example, modifying the process is within the Palmetto State’s reach, our Republican governor notwithstanding. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, also a Republican, ordered election officials to conduct an almost all-mail ballot—“a stark departure from the state’s typical voting process,” in the words of Baltimore Sun reporter Emily Opilo.

So far, 15 states and counting have altered their procedures to safeguard workers and voters during the pandemic, which has caused lockdowns in 42 states and the District of Columbia.

Reasonable modifications will diminish the chances that millions of American citizens still to vote won’t suffer, to quote New York Times reporters Nick Corasaniti and Stephanie Saul, the same fate as “thousands of Wisconsin voters [who] were effectively disenfranchised.”

South Carolina is not immune to the same misdeeds caused by naked partisanship in Wisconsin. As time ticks away, we must focus not only on the continued threat of Covid-19 but also on insiders who take advantage of the public’s fear for their own political gains.

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