The Election Process, 0916 SCBJ, SC Lawyer, September 2016, #16

AuthorRobert E. Tyson Jr., J.

The Election Process

No. Vol. 28 Issue 2 Pg. 16

South Carolina BAR Journal

September, 2016

Robert E. Tyson Jr., J.

Legal issues surrounding elections have grown immensely in the recent past. With social media creating more attention on the process and the specific candidates, the process for elections must be solid. In Anderson v. South Carolina Election Commission, the Supreme Court held, “Integrity in elections is foundational.”1 The Court further stated, “It is that recognition of the importance of the integrity of public elections that leads us to grant relief at this time.”[2] This article describes the process for one to register to vote, the voting process and post-election issues.

Voter registration and pre-election matters

Voter registration

To vote in South Carolina, an individual must be at least 18 years of age and a resident in the county and the polling precinct in which he or she intends to vote. For municipal elections, the voter must have lived in the municipality for at least 30 days prior to the municipal election. A person is disqualified from voting if deemed mentally incompetent, imprisoned or convicted of a felony.

A person seeking to register to vote must be found qualified by the county board of voter registration and elections (hereinafter “county board”) and must do so at least 30 days prior to an election. A person can register in person at the county office, by mail or by electronic means via the State Election Commission website. For application electronically, a person must have a valid driver’s license or state registration card issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Prior to each political party primary election, the county board furnishes a list of the names of all voters and their respective precincts. South Carolina also has instituted a “motor voter” registration system. When a person applies for a driver’s license, including a renewal application, the application also serves as an application for the person’s voter registration. The General Assembly intends for registration applications to be readily available, including giving them to all high schools.

The State Election Commission (hereinafter “Election Commission”) issues voter registration cards. The Commission maintains a statewide voter registration database that must be continuously available to each county. Changes cannot be made to a person’s voter registration unless the voter confirms his or her residence has changed or the voter fails to respond to a notice issued by the county board. The Commission undertakes efforts to ensure the database remains an accurate list of eligible voters.

Responsibilities of the Election Commission

The General Assembly has the obligation to establish the rules for the conduct of elections. The Election Commission has been delegated the authority to manage the election system in South Carolina. Specifically the Election Commission supervises the conduct of county boards of elections, conducts audits of the county boards, maintains a master file of all qualified electors by county and by precincts, and ensures the federal laws concerning elections are administered.

Polling places and precincts

The General Assembly establishes the voting precincts in the state. A precinct can have multiple polling places, provided that voters have written notice of the location of the polling place. When a polling place is changed, a written notice must be posted at the previous polling place of the location for the new polling place. Precinct changes generally are not made often, so when they are, much attention is given to provide notice to all affected voters.

Each registered elector must be registered and shall vote at the designated polling place within the precinct of his residence. In some situations, the polling place in a precinct is not available for the election. If the polling place's unavailability is known more than seven days before the election, the county legislative delegation must approve the alternative polling place. If the polling place's unavailability becomes known within seven days of the election, the entity conducting the election must give notice to the county legislative delegation of the alternative polling location. The alternative polling place is not required to be within the precinct of the elector's residence; however, if it is not within the precinct the entity conducting the election shall certify in writing to the Election Commission that no other location within the precinct is available for use as a polling place and that the selection of a polling place was made with consideration of the distance electors would have to travel to vote. Further, the entity conducting the election shall make every attempt to notify electors of the alternative polling place before the election and on the day of the election through the media and by posted notice at the designated polling place.

For municipal elections, the electors shall vote at the voting place nearest their residence for aldermen or councilmen who are elected either by wards or by at-large within the municipality.

When a registered elector moves from one precinct to another, the elector must notify the county board of his or her new residence and the county board shall provide notice to the voter of his or her new polling place. When a new voting precinct is established, the county board must update its list and must provide notice to the electors of the changes. This notification also applies when an area in the county is annexed into a municipality, thereby giving the voter notice of its new ward.

The General Assembly has mandated at least one polling place be the Countywide Barrier-Free Voting Precinct and has encouraged the county board to make every precinct barrier free. Any physically handicapped elector, regardless of his place of residence in the county, may vote at the county's designated polling place if the elector...

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