In a desire to protect South Carolinians during the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring that all voters can cast a vote via mail for the state’s upcoming June 9 primary elections, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of South Carolina, and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a federal lawsuit on April 22, according to a press release

The civil rights defenders are also challenging South Carolina’s requirement that absentee voters have a third-party witness sign their ballot envelope, as everyone is supposed to be social distancing, according to the advice of health experts. 

Says Deuel Ross, senior counsel at LDF:

Structural racism has resulted in the COVID-19 crisis having a devastating and disproportionate impact on African-American people in South Carolina. Yet, state law restrictions on absentee voting will needlessly force many African-American and other voters to vote in-person in contradiction of the governor’s shelter in place order. Similarly, the state’s requirement that a witness sign an absentee ballot will endanger vulnerable voters by forcing them to leave their homes and interact with others. Election officials must act to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by both broadly expanding absentee voting options and making in-person voting as safe and accessible as possible.

The 49-page suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Columbia, South Carolina, plainly states that “Plaintiffs bring this action to prevent the needless deprivation of their fundamental right to vote.” It also highlights sociological concerns that people of color are at higher risk of being exposed because “the idea of social distancing is really a privilege for those who have money and resources.”

Susan Dunn, legal director at the ACLU of South Carolina, weighs in:

Inevitably, the COVID-19 pandemic will result in voter suppression in 2020 elections unless we put preventative measures into place now. Without action from the courts, South Carolina’s June primaries will force people to choose between their health and their right to vote, a decision no one should have to make.

To learn more about the case details and for updates, visit ACLU’s site here.