Politics & Government

Haven’t voted in a while in SC? Make sure you still can

News & Observer staff file photo

Another election, another round of accusations of voter suppression.

This year, for instance, the state of Georgia has been accused of reducing the number of early-voting locations, purging its voter rolls and holding up new voter registrations.

Could something similar happen in South Carolina?

The Palmetto State handles registration and voting before Election Day differently. But officials say you still should check your voting status before you go to the polls, especially if you haven’t cast a ballot in a while.

If you haven’t voted in the previous two general election cycles, you’ll receive a card from the S.C. Election Commission in the mail, checking to see if you still live at the address on your voter registration card.

If election officials don’t receive a reply, your name will be removed from the active voter list. But poll workers still will have your name on their list on Election Day, and you will be able to vote if you show up to cast a ballot during either of the next two general elections.

“If you show up to vote, you would never know you were listed as inactive,” said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the S.C. Election Commission.

Currently, 194,134 S.C. voters are listed as inactive after the latest round of confirmation cards were mailed out in 2017, according to the Election Commission.

Only if a voter doesn’t cast a ballot in four straight elections — meaning you haven’t voted in South Carolina since 2008 — is a registration “archived” by the registration office. But, even then, you still can reactive your right to vote.

“As long as you’ve been registered continuously in Richland County (for example), and haven’t been convicted of a felony, you can be reactivated,” Whitmire said. “Even if you’ve never voted or you haven’t voted in 20 years.”

While South Carolina’s voter registration deadline passed last Wednesday, an inactive voter with a valid registration can have their registration reactivated even as they stand in line to vote by a poll worker calling the county registration office. A would-be voter who moves within a county also can get their registration updated with their new address after the deadline.

Moving voters off the active list isn’t part of some pre-election, voter-suppression plot, officials say. They says they just want to keep the voter rolls up to date.

“A lot of people move away, but then never notify the election office,” Whitmire said. “We want to keep it manageable, especially if you’re still using a paper list.”

Georgia election officials have been accused of holding up 50,000 voter registrations because the voters’ names don’t exactly match their names on another government document, like a driver’s license. South Carolina doesn’t have a similar requirement, Whitmire said. It is up to poll workers to figure out any differences in voters’ names.

Georgia also has been criticized for cutting back its number of early-voting sites.

South Carolina doesn’t have early voting. But voters can vote absentee for 30 days ahead of an election if they can’t vote on Election Day.

In Richland County, voters can vote at three locations between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, in addition to the county election office — the Ballentine Community Center, the Parklane Road Adult Activity Center and the Garners Ferry Adult Activity Center.

Voters in Lexington County can vote absentee in person at that county’s election office at 605 W. Main St. in Lexington.

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