With the long lines at voting precincts across the state in November, an early voting bill should be a no-brainer for lawmakers. The state Senate has given preliminary approval to a sensible bill, and we hope the House will follow suit.
During the fall elections, some voters in Richland County reported waiting six hours or more to vote. Other voters said they were casting ballots after midnight.
Voting shouldn’t be a physical ordeal. The state should make it as painless as possible.
One way to do that is to allow voters to cast ballots before Election Day. Thirty-one other states already have provisions to allow voters to cast ballots several days early.
The S.C. Senate bill would allow early voting to start 10 days before an election and end after a week. No early voting would be allowed on Sundays.
The bill passed 34-5 last week. It needs a third reading, generally a formality, to move out of the Senate to the House.
That’s where it might meet with resistance. A version of the early-voting bill on the House floor would end in-person absentee voting, which Democrats oppose, saying it would eliminate one option giving people a chance to cast ballots.
Mail-in absentee voting would remain. But senators say they would not accept an early-voting bill that ends in-person absentee balloting.
We see no reason to tinker with absentee voting provisions. They allow state voters to cast absentee ballots up to 30 days in advance of an election if they can provide one of 18 reasons, such as a trip, to explain why then can’t go to the polls on Election Day. The elderly, however, are permitted to vote absentee without a reason.
In practice, the restrictions are loosely enforced. Election officials concede that people routinely lie about the reasons they want to vote absentee so they can vote without having to wait in line on Election Day.
But that merely reinforces the fact that voters are fed up with waiting hours to vote. The Senate bill is a sensible remedy.
Giving voters a week before the election to cast ballots would permit them to tailor their schedules so they could cast a ballot without missing work or vote when transportation or child care was available. For some, having that flexibility is not just a convenience, it can determine whether they have the chance to vote at all.
This isn’t complicated. Other states have demonstrated that early voting works.
In Georgia, last election, nearly 2 million voters took advantage of the chance to vote up to three weeks early. In North Carolina, 60 percent of voters cast early ballots.
South Carolina’s voters deserve the same flexibility, and we hope House members won’t stand in the way.