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How to Vote in South Carolina’s 2020 Election: What You Need to Know

South Carolina voters this fall face a big change — a new paper ballot system — and the possibility of more to come, with the State Election Commission urging the General Assembly to expand absentee voting before Election Day:

  • For the first time in a presidential election, South Carolina voters will receive a paper ballot to insert into the ballot marking device. It will be scanned and inserted into a locked ballot box and can be used for audits or recounts if needed.
  • Eligible voters who apply to vote absentee by mail will receive a return envelope with prepaid postage for the first time, but absentee voting is not available to all.
  • The State Election Commission is urging the Legislature to expand absentee voting to all registered voters and to allow early voting, to help cut down on Election Day lines. 
A man walks out of an absentee voting station after voting
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

Here’s what else you need to know:

How do I register to vote?

You can register online, by mail or in person. If you have a valid driver's license or identification card issued by the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, you can register online at the State Election Commission’s website. If you don't have either ID, download a voter registration form from the site and return it by mail, email or fax to your county Board of Voter Registration and Elections. Or you can register in person at your county board. You must register by Sunday, Oct. 4, to vote in the November general election.

How can I get an absentee ballot? Are there important deadlines?

Only people in certain circumstances are eligible to vote absentee in South Carolina, including those who are 65 and older, those with a disability or those who will be away from home on Election Day. A full list of those who qualify is on the election commission’s website. You can request an absentee ballot by filling out an online application and returning it to your county Board of Voter Registration and Elections office by mail, email, fax or in person. The deadline for submitting the application is Friday, Oct. 30. Your absentee ballot will arrive by mail, and you’ll need to return it by 7 p.m. on Election Day, either by mail or in person. Note that these absentee ballots require a witness’s signature.

If you’re eligible to vote absentee, you can also do it in person. Go to your county voter registration office before 5 p.m. on Nov. 2, complete an application and cast your ballot. You’ll need a photo ID, like a South Carolina driver’s license or a U.S. passport.

How do I know my absentee ballot is secure?

Absentee ballots must be sent directly to the voter, who signs for it twice, once on the application and again on the ballot itself. The completed absentee ballot must be placed in the “Ballots Herein” envelope provided with the absentee ballot.  That envelope should be placed inside a return envelope that must also be signed and witnessed before returning.

When is Election Day? When are polls open?

Tuesday, Nov. 3. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Can I vote before Election Day?

The state does not allow early voting, other than by absentee ballot.

What form of identification do I need to vote?

Voters need a photo ID, which can include a state driver’s license, Department of Motor Vehicles ID card, state voter registration card with photo, military ID or U.S. passport. Photo IDs are available free from county Voter Registration and Elections offices and DMV locations. Voters without a valid photo ID should bring their non-photo registration card, which will allow them to complete an affidavit and vote a provisional ballot.

What is being done to make polling places safe from coronavirus?

The state is taking steps to ensure that voting on Nov. 3 is safe. Poll workers will wear masks, face shields and gloves. Voters are encouraged to wear masks and practice social distancing. They will be given disposable cotton swabs to use on the touch screen voting device. At check-in, voters will be asked to hold up their ID instead of handing it to a poll worker. They are also encouraged to bring their own pen for signing the voter list. Learn more about safety measures at noexcusesc.com.

Will I be able to vote in the same place as I always have?

Not necessarily. Fewer election workers may mean combining some polling places. Check with the county board of voter registration and elections or visit the state election commission's website to confirm your polling location.

What are the key races in my state?

  • U.S. President
  • U.S. Senate: Incumbent Lindsey Graham (R) vs. Jaime Harrison (D)
  • U.S. House: All 7 seats

Voting rules and procedures may change before Election Day. We’ll update this story if they do, so bookmark this page and check back.

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AARP is urging older Americans to ask the candidates 5 key questions:

  • Just over half of all older Social Security beneficiaries rely on the program for at least 50 percent of their income. If elected, how will you ensure that current and future Social Security benefits are not cut as part of deficit reduction?
  • Half of the people with traditional Medicare spend at least a sixth of their income on health care. If elected, how will you protect Medicare from benefit cuts, as well as lower health care costs and ensure seniors continue receiving the affordable health care they have earned?
  • COVID-19 has caused death and suffering for too many older Americans who require long-term care. If elected, how will you make sure seniors can access safe and affordable long-term care at home, as well as in facilities like nursing homes and assisted living?

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