HICKS COLUMN: Voting plan an exercise in absurdity
New from South Carolina, it's early voting for everyone.
That's right, due to popular demand, the state Legislature — the people who brought you photo ID voting — want to make it easier for you to cast a ballot for your favorite politician. They are offering nine — count 'em, nine — days of voting prior to the actual election.
No more worrying about making it to the polls on a specific day. No more keeping up with that whole first-Tuesday-after-the-first-Monday thing. No more lying on your absentee-voter ballot.
Now if that sounds a little too good to be true, well, it is.
Republicans at the Statehouse are offering Democrats what they've always wanted: no-excuse early voting. But it's a case of careful what you wish for.
Because election officials say the plan will likely keep you standing in line to vote far longer than you do now.
More folks, less time
Right now, there are 2.8 million registered voters in this state, and about 400,000 of those folks voted before election day last November.
They did this by casting absentee ballots, a system so lax that you don't need much of an excuse to qualify — sick dog, for instance. Election officials openly call it de facto early voting.
The Legislature wants to eliminate this in-person absentee voting and replace it with nine days of early voting. Bad idea.
Absentee voting picks up as an election approaches. Joseph Debney, director of the Charleston County Board of Elections and Voter Registration, says in the first three weeks, it rarely takes anyone longer than 15 or so minutes to vote. In the final two days of absentee voting last fall, Charleston saw nearly 5,000 people show up.
They waited longer than 15 minutes.
Compressing the number of days, and removing any limitations to who can vote, is going to increase the number of people voting early, but give them far less time to do it.
“It actually takes what we have and makes it worse in some ways,” says Chris Whitmire with the State Election Commission.
Try, try again
Rep. Alan Clemmons, the Horry County Republican behind this plan — and photo ID voting — says it's a matter of education.
Election officials just need to show folks how easy it is to mail in absentee ballots. And, Clemmons says, “I think the lines will be manageable.”
More mail-in ballots will slow down the process, however, and some people say less in-person absentee voting will make it harder to vote. Democrats and civil rights groups call it an outright attempt to suppress the vote.
“They are making the case for the Voting Rights Act,” says the Rev. Joseph Darby, first vice president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP.
You know, the photo ID requirement was supposed to do that. But so far, only 1,000 people have gotten a photo ID for voting, and some people believe that, for all the hand-wringing, that new requirement to cast a ballot is not really going to hurt turnout all that much.
But this early voting plan might do the trick.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.