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SC election officials, state GOP leaders appeal ban on absentee ballot witness signatures

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AbsentePostCard (copy)

Postcards from the U.S. Postal Service remind voters to request and mail in absentee ballots well in advance of Nov. 3. File/Cindi Ross Scoppe/Staff

COLUMBIA — South Carolina's election agency and Republican legislative leaders are appealing a federal ruling from late last week that struck down the witness signature requirement for absentee ballots in the 2020 general election.

The initial ruling issued late Friday night by U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Childs determined that the requirement for voters to get a witness to sign their absentee ballots would jeopardize South Carolinians' fundamental right to vote due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

But in a notice filed Monday, attorneys for the state Election Commission, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, S.C. Senate President Harvey Peeler and the S.C. Republican Party expressed their intention to appeal to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The decision to appeal means it remains up in the air for now whether voters will need to get a witness signature on those absentee ballots, which are expected to be submitted in record numbers given the high-profile nature of the election and many voters' preference to vote absentee during the pandemic.

South Carolina lawmakers voted almost unanimously this month to let all of the state's registered voters cast absentee ballots without an excuse this year due to the pandemic — a change from the typical process that requires voters to cite one of 17 reasons normally needed for casting an absentee ballot.

But Republican leaders opposed Democratic efforts to remove the witness signature requirement, arguing it helps guard against voter fraud. Childs disagreed in her ruling, noting that cases of voter fraud are few and far between, and questioning whether the witness signature requirement does much to prevent it.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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