South Carolina

SC wants to prevent the election fraud causing turmoil in NC

Voters line the machines at at Myers Park Traditional School during a recent primary. DAVID T. FOSTER
Voters line the machines at at Myers Park Traditional School during a recent primary. DAVID T. FOSTER Observer file photo

After ballot tampering in North Carolina led the state to call for a new congressional election, some at the S.C. State House are looking to crack down on anyone who might steal or forge absentee ballots in Palmetto State elections.

South Carolina state law already makes it a felony to “obtain, procure or control” the vote of another voter. But senators this week debated a bill that would explicitly add a penalty for anyone who “knowingly collects” an absentee ballot without authorization.

If passed, anyone who tried a similar scheme in South Carolina would face up to five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.

The proposal follows the controversial 2018 congressional race in North Carolina’s 9th District. That race looked like it was over on Election Night. Democrat Dan McCready even conceded the election to his Republican opponent Mark Harris.

But then questions arose about how ballots in the unusually tight race were handled in rural Bladen County. Republican operative Leslie McCrae Dowless was accused of illegally collecting absentee mail-in ballots from residents there — and potentially altering or discarding their votes.

McCrae Dowless has since been indicted on felony charges related to the scheme, and North Carolina has ordered a new election to decide the now vacant 9th District seat.

McCrae Dowless is at the center of controversy in North Carolina's 9th district, but most of the time he's stayed behind the scenes.

The S.C. bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said the problem isn’t limited to outright fraud like that seen in North Carolina’s 9th District.

“Demographic analysis is so sophisticated, these groups can identify how someone is going to vote, and solicit votes from those individuals that would be in their favor,” Davis said. “There’s a balance between someone who really requires assistance … and (allowing) outside groups to go out there and attempt to influence an election.”

Besides the voter who casts a mail-in ballot, only an immediate family member or someone who completed an authorization form can hand deliver the ballot back to election officials. Candidates or their campaign staffers are prohibited from handling someone else’s absentee ballot.

S.C. Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said election officials support the measure to create a penalty for mishandling ballots, although they would like to see some tweaks to clarify the language.

“There are people who ‘knowingly collect’ ballots for legitimate reasons,” Whitmire said. “Like the mailman.”

Lawmakers on Wednesday also considered plans to allow an early voting period in South Carolina. The bill would allow early voting — no excuse needed — starting 10 days before an election, and ending three days before the election.

That change could reduce the possibility for absentee voter fraud because more voters would take advantage of in-person early voting, Whitmire said.

Currently, voters can cast an absentee ballot only if they have a reason for not being able to vote on Election Day. But there are so many reasons a voter could qualify to cast an absentee ballot — including travel, work, illness, disability or age — many voters already vote early.

In 2016, one in four ballots cast in South Carolina was absentee. In 2018, almost 300,000 absentee votes were cast — 17 percent of the total and the largest number ever cast in an election for governor. One senator thinks that number might be higher than the law truly allows.

“I think there are plenty of people who aren’t being honest with why they’re voting absentee,” said Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston. “I went the Friday before the election and it was completely packed. If all left the day of the election, the population of Charleston County would drop 25 percent.”

SC to learn to pronounce “Buttigieg”

America’s first millennial presidential candidate is coming to South Carolina.

Pete Buttigieg will be campaigning on Saturday. The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., will appear at the Greenville County Democrats’ monthly breakfast at 8:30 and do some canvassing with Tina Belge, a local Democratic candidate for the state Senate running in a special election on March 26.

Buttigieg — it sounds like “BOOT-edge-edge” — will head to Columbia for a meet-and-greet with his fellow Mayor Steve Benjamin at The Venue on Main at 2:30 p.m. He’ll finish the day at Clinton College in Rock Hill at 5:15 p.m.

Buttigieg mounted a campaign from his city of 102,000 to chair the Democratic National Committee back in 2017 – along with former South Carolina party chairman Jaime Harrison – but he ultimately lost to former Obama labor secretary Tom Perez instead.

Laying out the case to impeach Trump in SC

One anti-Trump activist’s impeachment tour is returning to Columbia.

While Democrats in Congress continue to debate the possible impeachment of Donald Trump, billionaire Tom Steyer is coming to Columbia to promote the idea directly.

The San Francisco hedge fund manager and liberal activist will be speaking at the Columbia Conference Center on Laurelhurst Avenue. The doors open at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday.

Steyer will follow up with a luncheon at noon Monday on the Hilton Head Island Beach & Tennis Resort.

Steyer has held similar events to promote his “Need to Impeach” campaign encouraging members of Congress to remove President Donald Trump from office. He also spent his own money on TV ads promoting the cause.

Steyer came to Columbia to hold an impeachment town hall last May.

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Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.