What’s the difference between absentee and early voting?

Every state election commission defines these terms slightly differently.  In South Carolina, early voting and absentee voting are referred to jointly as absentee voting, which can be conducted in-person or by mail.  Absentee voting is when an elector casts a ballot other than at the polls on election day.

How do I absentee vote?

First, you have to apply for voting by absentee ballot, as you must have some statutorily-authorized reason to vote by absentee ballot (discussed below).  If you’re voting by absentee ballot in-person, you must visit your county voter registration office and cast your vote prior to 5:00 pm the day before the election.  If you’re voting absentee by mail, once your absentee voting application has been approved, you’ll receive a ballot in the mail.  Complete the ballot and return it either by mail or in-person to the county voter registration office by 7:00 pm the day of the election.  The South Carolina Election Commission website is an excellent resource for finding out more about absentee voting.  No matter what you’ve read online, you cannot vote by text message in South Carolina.

Should I vote by absentee ballot?

 It depends.  Assuming you qualify to vote absentee (see list below), absentee voting can save you the time and headache of waiting in line at the polls.  Also, by reducing the burden of showing up to the polls, absentee voting can increase the number of voters participating in an election.  Although convenient, absentee voters miss out on the vague feeling of civic togetherness voting in-person brings in what might otherwise be a fraught and divisive election season.  Plus, you can’t proudly wear the “I voted” sticker!  Because South Carolina law requires some pretty strong reasons to vote by absentee ballot (particularly as compared to the “no excuse” absentee voting in thirty-seven other states), chances are that stickers and feelings of civic togetherness aren’t going to tip the scales of your decision-making.

Who is qualified to vote by absentee ballot in South Carolina?

 S.C. Code Ann. § 7-15-320 requires that electors fall under a particular category in order to qualify for absentee voting:

  • people who are sixty-five years of age or older;
  • physically disabled people;
  • people attending to sick or physically disabled people;
  • people admitted to hospitals as emergency patients on the day of an election or within a four-day period before the election;
  • people with a death or funeral in the family within a three-day period before the election;
  • people whose employment obligations require that they be at their place of employment during the hours that the polls are open (and present written certification of that obligation to the county board of voter registration and elections);
  • poll workers;
  • people who will be serving as jurors in a state or federal court on election day;
  • students who are studying abroad;
  • people serving with the Red Cross or the USO;
  • government employees working abroad;
  • people vacationing or living abroad;
  • people confined to a jail or pretrial facility pending disposition of arrest or trial; or
  • members of the Armed Forces, their spouses, and dependents residing with them.