South Carolina: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

Grace Han/Thrillist
Grace Han/Thrillist

As Americans, we have the privilege to see a problem in our society and actually do something about it. Your vote matters, which is why it's so essential to prep for the 2020 General Election well in advance. While November 3 might feel like a ways away (it's really not), there are still registration, absentee, and mail-in deadlines coming up soon.

There are many routes to go when casting your ballot. Of course, you can go in-person to your local polling place on Election Day (I know you wanna boast that "I Voted" sticker on Instagram), but if you're unable to do so, you can opt for a mail-in absentee ballot, as well. You've just gotta bear in mind the request and submission deadlines for those, in addition to registration cutoffs. Here's everything you need to know.

What’s the deadline to register to vote in South Carolina?

You must register to vote or update your registration 30 days in advance of the election, meaning the deadline for the General Election on November 3, 2020 falls on October 4, 2020, according to the South Carolina Election Commission. If you're registering to vote by mail, your forms must be postmarked by Monday, October 5. You can still register online 30 days before November 3. 

How to register to vote in South Carolina 

To register in South Carolina, let's first make sure you are eligible. The state requires voters to first and foremost be a citizen of the United States and at least 18 years-old on or before Election Day. You also have to be a permanent resident of South Carolina and register in the county and precinct in which you live. You must not be confined in any public prison as the result of a conviction, have been convicted of a felony or offense against election laws (or if previously convicted, you must have served your entire sentence or have been pardoned), and you must not have been declared by a court as mentally incompetent. 

Now that those requirements are out of the way, let's get down to the nitty gritty. If you are not registering online (this is the quickest and easiest route), you can download, print, and fill out the voter registration form and return it via mail or in-person. 

Whether you're returning your voter registration application via mail/fax/email or in person, it goes to your county board of voter registration -- you can find yours here. You can also register IRL at a number of other government agencies. Browse the full list.

Can I vote early?

For the most part, no. South Carolina doesn't offer early voting unless you're among those who qualify to cast an absentee ballot. Sorry, guys.

Can I vote by mail?

You can only vote by mail if you are doing so with an absentee ballot. Unfortunately, the state isn't offering a vote-by-mail option for voters who are concerned about the potential of getting COVID-19 at a polling location. "The SEC and county election officials are taking steps to make election day polling places as safe as possible," the SEC states on its website.

How to request an absentee ballot in South Carolina

Before we get into how you can get your hands on an absentee ballot, we should go over the criteria you need to meet in order to qualify for one. The SEC's absentee voting information site lists all the different ways you can be eligible to request an absentee ballot, such as being 65 years-old or older, being a student and residing outside of your county, planning to be on vacation outside of your county on election day, and more. Check out the full list -- under the header titled "Who Can Vote Absentee" on the SEC's site -- to make sure you're eligible.  

If the state allows you to vote absentee, there are three ways you can get an application to request an absentee ballot. You can visit your county voter registration office to request and fill out the form in person. Or, if you want to do the whole process via mail, you can call or email your local voter registration office and they'll mail you an application. Finally, you have the option to print an application, fill it out, and either return it by email, mail, fax, or drop it off in person. 

Now, for the deadlines. The cutoff for submitting your application is 5pm on the fourth day before Election Day, but the SEC warns that you should return your application at least two weeks before Election Day to provide yourself with enough time to receive your absentee ballot it, fill it out, and return it. "Applying late puts your ballot at risk of not being returned by the deadline," the SEC warns. On the other hand, if you apply early, you'll get your absentee ballot in the mail approximately 30 days before the election. The sooner, the better, folks. 

How to vote absentee in South Carolina

There are two ways to vote absentee in South Carolina, the first of which is perhaps the quickest route and the one that'll provide you with the most peace of mind. 

1. You can visit your county voter registration office, fill out an absentee ballot application, receive an absentee ballot, and cast your vote there on the spot. This way, you don't have to worry about your absentee ballot getting back to election officials in time to be counted. Better yet, you can cast your absentee ballot in person at the voter registration office beginning on September 28 and up until 5pm on the day before the election.

2. You can receive your absentee ballot in the mail and cast your ballot from wherever you are at the time. Complete your ballot, place it in the "ballot here-in" envelope that it came with, place the "ballot here-in" envelope in the return envelope, then return it to your county voter registration office by mail or by personal delivery. As the SEC points out, there's one more crucial step: Be sure to sign the accompanying voter's oath and have your signature witnessed (anyone can witness it, so a notary is not necessary). Yes, a federal judge suspended the signature witness requirement, but depending on how things continue to play out in court, the status of this requirement could change before election day. Your absentee ballot must be received by the county voter registration office by 7pm on Election Day. The SEC recommends sending it at least a week before the election to ensure it gets there in time to be counted.

Again, you'll have to meet the eligibility requirements to vote this way, so be sure about that before you get your hopes up about skipping the in-person voting route. 

How can I make sure my absentee ballot is counted?

Simply put, make sure you follow the ballot directions and get it back to the proper place well ahead of the deadline to be safe. It's also a good idea to avoid tearing or otherwise damaging your absentee ballot materials so that it's not thrown out on some sort of technicality. 

You can also check the status of your absentee ballot online.

    How can I stay safe while voting in person?

    First and foremost, locate your voting precinct and make a plan for when you'll go to vote between the hours of 7am and 7pm. Anyone in line by 7pm will be allowed to vote, according to the SEC, but standing in a long line might not be the safest way to go.

    Thankfully, there are ways you can reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 there. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued safety recommendations for voters -- all of which are simple steps you can take to protect yourself and others.

    Here's a rundown of what the CDC recommends, per its official election guidance page:

    • Wear a mask. 
    • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
    • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
    • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
    • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
    • Those are the basics, but the CDC also recommends a few things you may not have thought about:
    • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first.
    • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
    • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place. In South Carolina, you'll need one of the following forms of photo ID: South Carolina driver's license, South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles ID Card, South Carolina voter registration ID card with photo, US military ID with a photo, or US passport.
    • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
    • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location.

    Additional South Carolina voting resources: 

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    Megan Schaltegger is a staff writer at Thrillist.