Columbia, SC — A measure awaiting debate in the state Senate would make it much more convenient for South Carolinians to cast ballots.
This is particularly important given a recent study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology political scientist Charles Stewart III showing that South Carolina had the third-longest voting lines in the nation in 2012. Only Florida and Maryland had longer wait times. This study also found that nationally blacks and Hispanics waited nearly twice as long in line to vote as whites.
This bill will go a long way toward making it easier for South Carolinians to vote and will help alleviate Election Day debacles like the six-hour waits some Richland County voters faced in November.
Early voting also will move the Palmetto State in line with 32 other states, including seven of 11 Southern states.
One common misperception is that early voting helps Democrats and hurts Republicans. Although academic research does show that early voters have more interest in politics, are more partisan and tend to be stronger ideologues than Election Day voters, their actual voting behavior isn’t really all that different from Election Day voters. If S.C. Republicans are worried that early voting will trigger a political realignment, they should look no further than North Carolina and Georgia, with their histories of early voting and substantial Republican majorities.
Some academic research indicates that early voting can increase turnout, because people vote when the benefits outweigh the costs, and early voting reduces the time cost of voting. Other research finds that the increased turnout may be temporary. For instance, one recent study found that the increased turnout disappeared by the second presidential election in which early voting was available.
Implementing early voting will require additional resources and increased coordination between state and local election officials, but a 10-day window is long enough to make a difference for voters and not so long that it will serve as a serious drain on public budgets. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that the average window is 19 days.
Our political leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, should unite behind common-sense voting reform. Access to the ballot isn’t a partisan issue but a cause that all South Carolinians should support.
Chairman, Political Science Department
College of Charleston