© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
South Carolina
Follow the latest news and information about voting and the 2020 election, including essential information about how to vote during a pandemic and more.

SC Logs Record Absentee Votes Despite Witness Rule Changes, ZIP Code Misprint In York County

David Boraks
These absentee ballots in Catawba County could be processed after they were received, but in South Carolina, ballots cannot be opened until Election Day.

South Carolina has already surpassed its record for the number of votes before Election Day. More than 600,000 people have either cast ballots in person or by mail. And there's still a week and a half left to go. Voting by mail is something new for many South Carolina voters since in previous elections, you had to have a good reason not to show up to a voting site -- such as having a physical disability or being in the armed forces. But lawmakers lifted that requirement this year because of the pandemic. Joining us to discuss the election flurry is Beth Covington, spokeswoman for York County.

Lisa Worf: Good morning, Ms. Covington.

Beth Covington: Good morning.

Worf: So given that so many people are voting absentee by-mail for the first time this year, have you seen many problems with returned ballots?

Covington: We actually feel like it's gone pretty smoothly, considering all that went on with the witness signature. It was on. It was off. It was on. It was off. But we knew that as long as it was potentially going to be required, then we always recommended our voters to go ahead and do that — to go ahead and get the witness signature and just not take the risk.

Worf: And of course, what happened in that case is that the legislature did require a witness signature, but then there were some legal wrangling. And finally, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and said, "No, indeed, you need a witness signature." But this was days into when people could start returning their ballots. So did you not get any that didn't have a witness signature on them then?

Covington: No, you always get some that don't have witness signatures. Thankfully, in a unique twist to this election, more people are wanting to hand-deliver their ballots by-mail to us. Well, that's great, because it gives us an opportunity to briefly look over the signature lines and make sure that we have both signatures before we accept the ballot. So we've managed to stop, you know, a few, several folks coming in without those signatures. They come back in the mail in the past, before this election, we would contact that voter. And so now, unfortunately, we're not allowed to do that. So those ballots will be rejected.

Worf: And so there's no opportunity then to correct it in any way?

Covington: That's my understanding.

Worf: In North Carolina, if you do not have a witness signature, you are sent a new ballot. Now, your office had some ballots go out with the wrong return ZIP code for the local elections office. How many ballots was that? And what's happening with them now?

Covington: What happened in my understanding of that is we signed off on the proof that was correct. But unfortunately, somewhere between the proof and the actual printing that was transposed -- two numbers in ZIP code for our office. So we have a liaison that works with us from the regional USPS. We called her and said, "Listen, we've got ballots that are going to be coming back to us. The ZIP code has been transposed. So can you please tell Charlotte to pass those on through?" Because our envelope is so unique, Charlotte was like, "Not a problem." You know, they're all coming through Charlotte to get to South Carolina. So I ran a report the other day and we have over 70% of those ballots back already. So obviously, Charlotte is doing exactly what they said they were going to do and not let the ZIP code become an issue.

Worf: And how many ballots are we talking about with the wrong return ZIP code?

Covington: Yeah, about 17,000.

Worf: With those 30% of the ballots you still haven't gotten, is there any plan to check up on those people to see if they had sent it? Or is there any way to track that?

Covington: We can track those ballots. They're scanned ballots, like the barcodes. So whenever they arrive at another location, they should be shot with the barcode. It's actually a very helpful tool to be able to see where things are at.

Worf: Now, you've had early voting sites open for almost two weeks now. Have there been any cases of voter intimidation?

Covington: We've not heard of any voter intimidation. What probably the biggest issue that we're seeing in absentee precincts right now is campaign literature, people wearing hats and T-shirts of their candidate or their party.

Worf: But that's within the law, right?

Covington: No, not in South Carolina. South Carolina, you can't have any campaign literature within 200 feet of the entrance of the building. So when we're processing voters and they get to where we are, where we're actually sitting in the room and asking to check I.D.s and things like that ...

Lisa Worf: Oh, so these are people voting who are within 200 feet?

Covington: Yes. We see a hat or a T-shirt or something like that. Masks, that's another one that we're having to deal with, are campaign-themed masks. So we have to ask you to please remove that until you leave the premises.

Worf: North Carolina has been processing absentee by-mail ballots, but not tallying them for a few weeks now. But in South Carolina, you have to wait till two days before Election Day to start processing them. With so many more mail-in ballots, are you worried you can process them and include them in the count by the end of Election Day?

Covington: We are going to be able to get a job start, start on Sunday. In South Carolina, when you vote absentee by-mail, it's actually a two-envelope process because your ballot goes in an unmarked envelope, which then goes inside of the envelope you return to us. So on Sunday, we can start removing the inner envelope from the outer. We have four high-speed letter openers we'll be using to zoom through this as quickly as possible. And then when it comes time on Election Day, which is when we can start actually opening the inner envelopes, we'll already be part of the way there.

So whatever it takes, you do it till it's done. Hopefully we can get you the results that night. I don't think it's going to be a matter of days like some people are so afraid of.

Worf: That's your county spokeswoman, Beth Covington, Ms. Covington, thank you.

Covington: Thank you.

Tell us about your voting experience. Did it go smoothly? Were there any problems? How were the lines? Did you feel safe? If so, why or why not?