Military voters get flexibility
COLUMBIA -- Sen. Chip Campsen said he was outraged when he learned that many of the votes cast by South Carolina's men and women serving overseas were at risk of never being counted in an election.
The Isle of Palms Republican championed a bill intended to make it easier for servicemen and women to vote in future elections. Campsen said a study by Pew Center on the States prompted him to take action.
Gov. Nikki Haley will visit the Charleston Air Force Base on Aug. 17 for a ceremonial bill signing of the Overseas Citizens Absentee Voters Act. The law also extends to citizens living in isolated or extremely remote areas of the world, such as scientific researchers or missionaries.
Haley initially signed the bill in June, but it has not yet taken effect. The U.S. Department of Justice must still give its stamp of approval, an extra oversight precaution added because of South Carolina's past voting rights abuses.
Pew reported in its 2009 study, "No Time to Vote: Challenges Facing America's Overseas Military Voters," that only a third of the estimated one million ballots distributed to military and overseas voters in 2006 were actually cast or counted. The study concluded that a third of all states did not provide enough time for the military personnel to vote and as many as half of all states needed to improve their absentee voting process to ensure votes are counted.
Campsen said federal law has protections built in for national elections, but South Carolina did not have laws governing state and local elections.
The new law calls for ballots and voting forms to be sent overseas via fax and email, allows for military personnel and overseas citizens to request a special write-in ballot 90 days before an election and eliminates the witness requirement for them. The Senate gave the bill key approval in 42-0 vote in February and the House's OK came in May with a 108-0 vote.
Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, led the effort in the House.
Retired Rear Admiral James J. Carey, a senior policy adviser to the Pew Center on the States, commended Campsen and Clemmons. "This law further demonstrates the South Carolina Legislature and the State Election Commission's commitment to supporting its military and overseas voters," Carey said in a statement.
South Carolina ranks in the top third of the nation for military personnel population and could affect tens of thousands of voters, Pew reports.