*Attorney General Wilson's office has replied to my request for comment which has been added to the bottom of this post.
Last week, the Super PAC of which I am a board member, Carolina Conservatives United, announced our intention to push for South Carolina to come into compliance with existing federal election law as it pertains to absentee ballots and the amount of time overseas troops & citizens have to get their votes counted. Federal law requires a 45 day period, however South Carolina currently misses that mark in a few places, most specifically as it relates to this year with the potential run-off election for U.S. Senator from South Carolina's seat currently held by Senator Lindsey Graham. As it stands, from the moment the run-off is announced, the military will have a mere two weeks to have their votes counted.
The response has been mixed with some claiming that we are trying to "alter the law" to accommodate our own political wants and further that we are incorrect in our assertion that SC has compliance issues as it relates to the federal law.
In fact, SC Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore took the opportunity to use some good old fashioned political rhetoric to attack our claim saying, “I find it surprising and disappointing that any group claiming to be conservative would ask Eric Holder's Justice Department to declare South Carolina's election law null and void."
I couldn't agree more with Mr. Moore that Eric Holder's DOJ is contemptible. For me, that decision came when he lied to Congress about his knowledge that the ATF sold guns to Mexican cartels which got a U.S. border agent killed and then hid behind executive privilege. For Moore, it's when the military gets their votes counted, but to each his own.
I find it more interesting that Moore also said, “There's a process for changing our state laws, and this isn't how it's done.”
The truth is that filing a complaint to get SC in compliance is a pretty good start and it doesn't sound like South Carolina's Attorney General, Alan Wilson, would disagree.
An interesting email exchange has been brought to my attention in which state leaders have been discussing this very issue for almost a year. People including Attorney General Alan Wilson and Solicitor General Robert Cook have been in this conversation which was initiated by Captain Samuel F. Wright (Ret.), the Director of the Reserve Officers Association (ROA).
Apparently it began in March of last year, but the emails that I received started in September. Captain Wright was urging AG Wilson to do something about the fact that absentee voters weren't getting the federally required time.
From an email in September, Captain Wright says this:
A federal law called the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) gives military personnel (INCONUS or OCONUS) the right to vote by absentee ballot in primary, general, special, and runoff elections for federal office. This includes the three elections (the primary, the runoff primary, and the special election) held this year in South Carolina’s First Congressional District.
As amended in 2009, UOCAVA explicitly requires each state to mail absentee ballots at least 45 days before any election (including primaries, runoff primaries and special elections) for federal office. See 42 U.S.C. 1973ff-1(a)(8)(A). South Carolina flouted this 45-day rule in 2013. The primary was held less than 45 days after the deadline for candidates to qualify for the ballot. The runoff primary was held less than 45 days after the primary. The special election was held less than 45 days after the runoff primary. Mailing absentee ballots at least 45 days before Election Day is necessary to ensure that those who protect the rights we all enjoy will be able to receive, mark, and return ballots that really do get counted, no matter where the service of our country has taken them.
AG Wilson's response was quick and to the point:
My understanding of your ‘ask’ of us (from the last paragraph below) is that you would like for us to remind various parties (listed in that paragraph) of UOCAVA’s 45 day requirement for overseas deployed soldiers and citizens? I will talk with our staff about that and someone will be in touch with you.
As a veteran who voted while serving in Iraq I agree with your concerns and appreciate your commitment to the rule of law.
Sounded promising. Solicitor General Cook replied as well:
Yes, indeed that is an excellent point. I think our State Election Commission is very attuned to this requirement but just to be absolutely sure nothing slips through the cracks we will forward this email to the Executive Director of the Commission, who is responsible to get the word out to all the local boards of election and others required to be notified.
Then, after a few more of these replies ... nothing.
That is until this past week when Captain Wright, after having learned of our complaint, decided to remind the AG that nothing had happened.
Last year, I discussed this very issue with your twice (at a Federalist Society meeting and a meeting at the Heritage Foundation), and you pooh-poohed and minimized the issue. Yes, this is a big deal, and South Carolina needs to come into compliance with federal law.
Yes, I recognize that making it possible for the brave young men and women in our armed forces to vote will require changes in the way that things have “always been done” in South Carolina. I respectfully submit that this is a small accommodation to make to facilitate the enfranchisement of the brave young men and women who are away from home and prepared to lay down their lives in defense of our country. After all, were it not for the sacrifices of military personnel, from the American Revolution to the Global War on Terrorism, none of us would have the opportunity to vote in free elections.
Amidst AG Wilson's irritation at being accused of "pooh poohing" the issue, he again seems to acknowledge that the appropriate course of action for South Carolina is to come into compliance with existing federal law. Wilson says (emphasis mine):
When we met last fall I was extremely concerned about the issues you raised regarding the 2013 Special Congressional Election and South Carolina’s apparent compliance issues with UOCAVA. When I returned to Columbia I met with Adam Piper, my Director of Government Affairs, Solicitor General Bob Cook, and our voting rights expert, Assistant Attorney General J.C. Nicholson. The staff, at my direction, expedited a letter addressing this issue to the Director of the South Carolina Election Commission and the South Carolina Adjutant General. In that letter we reminded all interested parties of the importance of UOCAVA compliance and offered our support and counsel on any future compliance issues.
So it seems that at the very least, Attorney General Wilson is on the side of what Carolina Conservatives United is attempting to do, in spite of what Matt Moore and many others who are pretending this is partisan hackery have to say.
The question now, and what I believe had Captain Wright so upset about in terms of inaction, is what will our state leaders DO about this issue? Hopefully some state senators will step up to the plate to make this happen. I'd wager, based on these emails, they'd have some powerful support.
Attorney General Wilson's office offered this reply to my request for comment:
Dear Mr. Howe:
Thank you for your message today.
Attorney General Alan Wilson and this office place the highest priority on protecting the voting rights of our brave men and women who are serving in the military.
As you probably know, the General Assembly has delegated to the State Election Commission the authority over elections in South Carolina. Today, the Attorney General’s Office contacted Ms. Marci Andino, the Commission’s Executive Director, who told us the state is doing everything humanly possible to assure compliance with UOCAVA for this year’s general election. Indeed, Ms. Andino said that no county has ever been late in sending ballots to our citizens who are serving in the military.
The Attorney General’s Office always stands ready to assist state officials should legislation be necessary. In the meantime, we will continue to work in close association with the State Election Commission and the Department of Justice in this matter.
We understand the Department of Justice approves of both the rank choice ballot and electronic submission as means of compliance with UOCAVA.
Again, be assured protecting the rights of South Carolina’s citizens who wear the uniform is of paramount importance to the Attorney General’s Office.
J. Mark Powell
Office of the Attorney General