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March 5, 2013

S.C. early voting bills hit roadblocks

Democrats say a House proposal limits access to polls, targeting poor and minorities. In the Senate, Republicans are blocking an early voting bill.

Early voting is not coming to South Carolina anytime soon.

Republicans are blocking an early voting bill in the state Senate as payback for Democrats blocking another bill the Republicans want. And while the House Judiciary Committee approved an early voting bill on Tuesday, Democrats hate it because they say it would restrict rather than expand voters’ access to the polls.

S.C. voters can vote in person up to 30 days before Election Day, but only if they have one of 18 approved excuses as laid out in state law. Rep. Alan Clemmons, a Horry Republican who is the bill’s sponsor, wants to eliminate that 30-day window and replace it with a nine-day window to vote in person — no excuses required. Voters could still mail an absentee ballot up to 30 days before to an election.

But Democrats said all it would do is give people less time to vote, accusing Clemmons of targeting poor people and minorities “you do not wish to have access to the ballot,” said Rep. James Smith, D-Richland.

“I don’t see any way you can say this is an expansion of rights and access to the ballot,” said Smith, who displayed pictures on his iPad during Tuesday’s committee hearing of long lines on election day in Richland County.

But Clemmons said his bill would expand access to the ballot by not requiring any excuses to vote before Election Day.

“We have for centuries had voting on one day. That’s the way our forefathers said it was supposed to be,” Clemmons said. “We are considering a sea change today by going from one Election Day to a period of 10 days of election. That’s large.”

The Senate bill would allow eight days of early voting but would still allow for 30 days of in-person absentee voting. Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, said he is blocking the bill because Democrats are blocking a bill that would nullify a 2012 federal law that allows authorities to detain American citizens suspected of being terrorists.

Martin said Republicans offered to allow a vote on early voting in exchange for a vote on the nullification bill but they were told “Heck, no.”

Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, noted that Senate Democrats cooperated with Republicans to pass bills they wanted earlier in the session.

“We’re not going to agree to be leveraged on a piece of legislation,” he said. “We are looking for early voting to be taken up, it was out of judiciary the first part of February. We are a month down the road it still hasn’t been dealt with.”

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