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COLUMBIA – Supporters from across the state spoke Thursday in favor of a bill that would change South Carolina’s voting laws.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, is sponsoring the bill that would change the state’s absentee voting laws, along with other voting laws.

The bill would create, “a pretty comprehensive expansion of the voting rights, making it easier for people to vote,” she said.

The House Election Laws subcommittee held a public hearing on Cobb-Hunter’s bill Thursday morning.

Cobb-Hunter said she knows the bill will not pass during this year, but she has hopes that it will be discussed when lawmakers return in January.

“In the interim, what we will do to make sure we get traction in January is work with the sponsor of the other bill, Rep. (Brandon) Newton,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Newton’s proposal would also make changes to absentee voting laws. Newton is a Republican.

Cobb-Hunter said she is willing to have conversation with Newton about possibly incorporating pieces from both bills.

“I look forward to the opportunity of talking with him and working with the staff,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Groups and individuals expressed their support for Cobb-Hunter’s proposal on Thursday, with no comments opposed to it.

Her bill would:

• Allow an individual who is qualified to vote to register in person and then immediately vote at an in-person absentee voting location in their county of residence during the period for in-person absentee voting.

• Establish procedures for conducting elections by mail or by deposit in a secure location designated for depositing ballots.

• Allow any qualified elector of this state to vote by absentee ballot without being required to provide a justification (no excuse absentee).

• Establish a 30-day period during which all voters must be allowed to cast an in-person absentee ballot.

• Establish a procedure by which a voter may rectify issues with their absentee ballot (right to cure).

• Require the counting of absentee ballots if they are postmarked on or before the day of the election and are delivered to the correct place no later than the close of business on the last business day immediately preceding the county canvass.

• Require the Department of Corrections to provide an inmate with information regarding the restoration of his voting rights once he is released from the custody of the department.

• Require the Department of Corrections and the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services to tell people who’ve served their sentences, including probation and parole, that they are eligible to register to vote.

• Allow a college or university identification card containing a photograph to be used as another form of identification authorized to be accepted when a person goes to vote.

• Eliminate the requirement that the absentee ballot applicant’s oath be witnessed.

• Eliminate references to the reason for the absentee ballot application request.

Cobb-Hunter said temporary changes to absentee voting requirements during the pandemic prompted the proposed bill, along with the work of the group Carolina For All.

“A lot of people saw how convenient voting could be if the legislature chose to make it so,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Cobb-Hunter said the bill has a broad range of support.

The Racial Justice Network and the American Civil Liberties Union were among the vocal supporters during Thursday’s public hearing.

“We had testimony from Democrats, Republicans, Independents, the young, the seasoned,” Cobb-Hunter said.

“Based on the testimony at the first subcommittee meeting, as well as today, what we heard clearly is that people, regardless of their political persuasion, want it more convenient and easier to vote in this state,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Cobb-Hunter said the bill is meant to be non-partisan.

“I would want people to understand it would be a mistake to think that this is partisan in trying to favor Democrats here in this state because look at the numbers. We had one of the highest turnouts ever, and the beneficiaries were Republicans. In the General Assembly, Democrats lost ground. We lost three seats in the Senate and two seats in the House,” Cobb-Hunter said.

“My point to the subcommittee members and to my colleagues is, ‘What do you have to be afraid of? In the last election, y’all came out smelling like roses. You won, we lost.’ This is not about that. This is about making sure that everybody indeed is able to participate in the process. After all, that’s what we claim is a right granted by the constitution,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Cobb-Hunter said she’s laying the groundwork for the bill to be passed next year.

“If we are able to convince people to put party labels aside, and look at this from the standpoint of one simple question, do we want everybody to vote who is eligible to vote, or do we not? And if the answer is yes, we want everybody who is eligible to vote to be able to vote without barriers, then supporting H3822 is a step in that direction,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Contact the writer: bharris@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-596-6530

This article originally ran on thetandd.com.

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