What voting absentee means for people living in Charleston County

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CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – South Carolina lawmakers return to the statehouse on Tuesday, as the general assembly has set aside two weeks for a special session.

Major issues on the table include changes to the state budget, while the House is expected to take up the Senate’s proposed bill on no-excuse absentee voting.

Right now, the Senate’s proposed bill would allow for anyone to vote absentee as long as the state of South Carolina is under a state of an emergency, however, you still have to request to vote absentee.

There are two ways to vote absentee, which include by mail or in-person.

If a voter requests an absentee ballot by mail, that means the voter will have to submit a request, an absentee application, to the Charleston County Board of Elections. It’s a piece of paper that asks the reasoning why a voter is requesting to vote absentee. You’ll have to sign and date the request and then mail the request back to the Board of Elections.

Once the Board has that application, when the ballot is ready, the Board will mail the voter an absentee ballot which they will then have to also return.

More than 55-thousand people have already requested an absentee ballot by mail in Charleston County. Of that 50-thousand, nearly 40-thousand people have returned their application.

“If absentee voting opened tomorrow and we sent out our first ballots, 39,500 people would get a ballot in the mail. That’s pretty amazing,” Executive Director for Board of Elections and Voter Registration in Charleston County, Joseph Debney said. “If you let those numbers sink in for a second, in 2016, we only had 16-thousand mailed ballots that came back.”

Debney said Charleston County typically sends out ballots no later than the first week of October.
The bill proposed in the Senate would require people to request an absentee ballot no later than October 24th. This is to ensure the ballot request gets to the Board and back to the voter so that the Board can get the ballot out to the voter in time.

This year, a distributor in Columbia will be handling sending out absentee ballots.

Thirty days prior to the election, starting October 5th, the Board of Elections will open up the North Charleston Coliseum for absentee voting. Two weeks prior to the election, an additional three locations will open up for absentee voting. This is the first year the county will offer four sites for voters to submit their ballot ahead of actual election day.

The North Charleston Coliseum will be open Monday through Friday starting October 5th from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Starting October 19th, the Board will open up Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant and in West Ashley, as well as the Charleston County Public Library off of Calhoun Street, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

“And in the past when we’ve done our absentee voting through those locations, we’ve had 43-thousand people come through one of those three locations,” said Debney. “So that’s been our biggest absentee. But we think we’ll hit at least 50-thousand by mail, and at least 50-thousand by in person.”

All four of the above locations serve as sites to vote absentee, as well as drop off locations. Or, if a voter hasn’t requested a by-mail ballot and wishes to vote early in-person, that can be done at one of the four above locations.

For every presidential election, the Charleston County Board of Elections increases their staff by up to 60 members. Right now, poll workers are still needed across the county.

“In 2016, that presidential election, we had somewhere between eight and nine-hundred workers. So that’s what we’re shooting for this time,” said Debney.

This year, the Board is looking to bring in 1-thousand workers, with about 700 in the mix at the moment.

“We did get a grant. I specifically asked for money for more poll-workers,” Debney said. “There’s a state algorithm for how they [poll workers] get paid. A person in charge of the location gets $225-dollars, and the regular workers get $165-dollars. So we’re going to add an additional hundred dollars to both of their pays to hope to get some more workers.”

For those interested in applying to become a poll worker, click here.

For those interested in learning about the absentee process, click here.

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