New SC election law ‘makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat,’ GOP lawmakers boast

·3 min read
Jeffrey Collins/AP

South Carolina’s new election law is one of the strongest in the nation and will ensure the integrity of elections in the state for years to come, Republican lawmakers boasted last week.

The legislation, which passed both chambers unanimously earlier this month and Gov. Henry McMaster quickly signed into law, establishes two weeks of early voting, places additional checks on the absentee voting process and requires the uniform application of election laws in all counties of the state.

Among its many election security measures, the law enhances penalties for voter fraud, expands the state’s array of election audits, institutes additional voter roll maintenance, establishes a voter fraud hotline and bans third-party funding of elections.

It also gives the Legislature more control over the State Election Commission and its executive director, who caught flak from Republicans during the 2020 election for recommending lawmakers adopt COVID-related voting provisions favored by Democrats and was seen as having insufficiently defended the state’s election laws

“We wanted to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat in South Carolina,” former House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said last week at a ceremonial bill signing for the legislation. “This bill, I believe, will put us in the top three states with regard to voting integrity.”

The 2020 election, which introduced emergency changes to voting procedures due to COVID-19 right, prompted legal challenges to state election laws and highlighted the disparate ways county officials handled election operations, served as the impetus for the legislation.

“What became clear to me during that time was that even though South Carolina did a good job with elections, that there were actually 46 election commissions that at times were operating in a different way,” Lucas said. “And although that did not have consequences for the state of South Carolina, down the road it could certainly be the recipe for disaster in this state.”

The lack of uniformity among county election offices combined with the abrupt pandemic-related changes to election procedures fed into broader concerns Republicans have for years harbored about election fraud.

While studies have found that voter fraud is exceedingly rare, the specter of election outcomes turning on improperly cast votes, which former President Donald Trump further animated with his debunked claims of election theft in 2020, has inspired Republican legislatures across the country to tighten voting laws.

“Many Americans are losing faith in elections, especially after the elections of 2020 and all of those controversies,” McMaster said last week. “As we in South Carolina enter another political season, our No. 1 priority must be to protect the integrity of our elections.”

Some Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns about aspects of the bill — including its creation of several new election-related felonies — and questioned the need for enhanced election security measures in a state where the 2020 election results were not in dispute.

But in the end, no Democrat voted against the bill.

South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson, the only Democrat who spoke at last week’s bill signing, said the legislation sends a clear message that South Carolina’s elections are “above and beyond reproach” and run effectively and efficiently.

“While no bill is perfect,” he said. “This is a heck of a very good start.”

Since its passage, some observers have criticized the legislation for muzzling the state election director and elections board.

Under the law, the state election director and members of the election commission can be ruled ineligible to serve for taking official action that conflicts with state election law or “(making) a written or oral statement intended for general distribution or dissemination to the public at large discrediting the merit of a state election law.”

The League of Women Voters of South Carolina, which generally supports the new election legislation, took to Twitter recently to criticize that aspect of the law because it puts the commission at the mercy of the very politicians whose elections it oversees.

Republican state lawmakers defend the provision saying the state election director and board must be subject to accountability and oversight, pointing to their frustrations with the agency’s stances during the 2020 election.

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