South Carolina legislators should start thinking about voting like people now think about online transactions.
Consider how you bought stuff 20 years ago: You got in your car, went to a store, bought it, lugged it home, and stored it away until you used it. It took a long time and there were a lot of steps to make a successful purchase. Then came the Internet.
At first, people were skeptical about providing private information — their name, address, and credit card number — to an online company trying to sell stuff. But over time, they got more comfortable with it. Then came Amazon and a plethora of companies. Now with the click of a few buttons, it's common for people in South Carolina to get a book or sweater or paper towels delivered from anywhere in the world.
Online transactions are now easy and safe. It just took us a while to get used to them. Now, we need to do the same for voting so more Americans can exercise one of their most precious rights in our democracy.
Unfortunately, lawmakers across the country often seem to try to make it more difficult to vote, despite lots of rhetoric.
In Georgia, a governor's race is being fought over whether the state should purge ballot rolls and reject absentee ballots over minor discrepancies. These Georgia officials are making it harder to vote, just as South Carolina lawmakers did a few years back when they insisted on photo identification for voters. Why? Because they feared voter fraud when none existed.
For the last few cycles in Charleston County, officials have added regional polling places around the long, thin county so voters have more places to vote. Why? Because they said parking was horrible and the county's election warehouse was too cramped for space needed to prep machines and train workers. When a voter turned up recently to vote, he was given a little grief about not being in one of the three absentee polling places, but eventually was allowed to vote.
"I have instructed staff to not turn folks away who wish to vote at our headquarters location. However, our office is not adequate to the large numbers of absentee voters that we have had at the three locations," Charleston election director Joe Debney told Statehouse Report.
Later, he added, "I strongly believe that we are giving more opportunities to voters by having off-site facilities. I have heard stories from voters from 2008 and 2010 when we had voting in our office. They have stated that they did not vote because of the limited parking and lines that went down Headquarters Road."
Brady Quirk-Garvan, chair of the Charleston County Democratic Party, agreed: "We believe that the more people who exercise their right to vote, regardless of party, is a good thing. ... The rest of the state should look to Charleston as an example of how to lead when it comes to voting and early absentee voting."
Still, we'd argue state lawmakers need to overhaul state voting law by adopting more practices that make it easier to vote, such as:
Same-day registration. Revamp antiquated laws that require registration 30 days before an election. Computerization of elections makes it comparatively easy for someone to walk in with proper ID, register, and vote on the same day. It's working in Minnesota and other places.
Stop gerrymandering. If lawmakers would draw fair districts that reflect communities, people would have more confidence in the process and believe they had someone in the legislature who would listen. As it is, districts are drawn with so much partisanship that minority parties in a district feel left out.
Easier online voting. In the country that spawned Amazon, election officials ought to be able to make ubiquitous, simple, secure online voting better than voting on antiquated machines that have no paper trail and cost millions of dollars.
The next governor should appoint a comprehensive election reform commission to make it easier for all South Carolinians to vote. We need to come out of the dark ages on voting and get more people to the polls to make our democracy more reflective of what the people want.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.