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SC Senate compromise resurrects early voting bill, House OKs

South Carolina Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, talks about a bill allowing early voting in the state on Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Jeffrey Collins/AP
South Carolina Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, talks about a bill allowing early voting in the state on Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

South Carolina senators unanimously approved a compromise Wednesday that would allow the state to hold true early voting and the House quickly approved the bill raising the possibility voters could head to the polls for two weeks before the June 14 primary.

Senators decided instead of getting to approve the governor's appointments to the state election board, they would add qualifications for the members and the executive director and give legislative leaders permission to ask a court to let them kick out anyone who does not meet those requirements.

Even though the bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously last month, the Senate's initial insistence they get to approve or reject the the governor's appointments to the five-member State Election Commission angered House supporters and the governor.

The House refused to reconsider the bill and even attached their version to a number of unrelated proposals until the compromise was reached this week.

"What we have here is better than advice and consent on the board," said Sen. Chip Campsen, a Republican from the Isle of Palms who worked on the agreement.

Senators would still get to vote on the executive director.

A few hours after the Senate unanimously approved the compromise, the House followed with a 108-1 vote. Gov. Henry McMaster has said he supports the bill outside of the issue with the Senate.

Republican Rep. Brandon Newton said early voting will go in place as soon as the bill is signed. That could be before the end of the week. State election officials didn't immediately respond to an email asking if they can have early voting in place by the end of May.

The bill was a compromise between Democrats and Republicans that won total support from each group. It would open polling places for regular early voting for two weeks before elections, excluding Sundays. That would make South Carolina the 45th state to allow anyone to vote outside of Election Day without an excuse.

For many years, South Carolina has allowed people to cast absentee ballots in person, but they had to include an excuse for why they could not be at the polls on Election Day. Under the proposal, the state would go back to mail-in absentee ballots.

The bill also would make voter fraud a felony, increasing fines and possible jail time for people who try to vote under a false name, vote more than once or poll managers who intentionally break the law.

The proposal requires audits of at least 5% of all votes in a county in the days after an election.

The new requirements for board members and the executive director include prohibiting actions that go against state election law and making statements that discredit the states election rules.

The election board angered lawmakers during the 2020 election when it did nothing to Executive Director Marci Andino after she considered ballot drop boxes and eliminating witness signatures on absentee ballots without their approval during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senators also were upset the governor did not use his power to fire the director.

Other requirements for board members include being a registered voter in the state for five years and the executive director would need to have at least three years of experience in election administration. Candidates for both roles could not contribute to campaigns or serve as officers in political parties.