Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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Dec. 1

The Post and Courier on eliminating the witness requirement on ballots:

The bad news from this year’s S.C. absentee voting extravaganza is that twice as many people as four years ago had their mail-in ballots rejected because they failed the state’s attention-span test.

The good news is that the total number of ballots rejected because they lacked a legally required witness signature was low enough — less than a quarter of a percent of all ballots statewide — that it couldn’t have skewed the outcome of any statewide or congressional races. And it probably didn’t change the outcome of any other elections.

The reassuring news is that the increase in rejected ballots was entirely the result of having more than three times as many mail-in ballots as four years ago — and not because of all the confusion the federal courts created after the Legislature insisted on maintaining a witness requirement that works more like a test of voters’ attention to detail than a security check, since election officials only check to make sure there’s a signature on the witness line, not to verify that it belongs to an actual human being.

In fact, all the extra attention generated by shifting court orders leading up to the Nov. 3 election apparently worked to improve voters’ attention span and therefore improve their test scores: Columbia’s State newspaper reports that the percentage of mail-in ballots that were rejected because the witness signature line on the envelope was blank plummeted by nearly half, from 1.2% in 2016 to 0.7% in 2020.

Still, that was 3,134 registered S.C. voters who contacted their election office to request an absentee ballot, filled it out, signed their own name on the envelope, mailed it in and still didn’t have their vote counted, because they didn’t comply with a requirement that we didn’t have to comply with in the June primaries and that the State Election Commission says we don’t need.

Some of those people put their ballots in the mail at a time when they were not legally required to include a witness signature, but the ballots didn’t arrive at their county election office until after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the requirement.

We continue to believe the Legislature should eliminate the witness requirement, not because some voters were disenfranchised by the Supreme Court action but because the Legislature has not produced a good explanation for what it accomplishes. (Saying “it deters fraud” isn’t sufficient without an explanation of how it does that.)

But if lawmakers insist on keeping the requirement, they need to correct a flaw in the law that was discovered after some voters received ballots with instructions telling them they didn’t need a witness signature, sent in their ballots without a signature, learned that the U.S. Supreme Court had reinstated the witness signature and were told they couldn’t “cure” their ballot, or cast a new one.

We certainly hope, for many reasons, that we never have to live through anything like 2020 again. And we aren’t convinced that it’s realistic to require election officials to contact voters who don’t comply with the law and give them a chance to correct any errors that would prevent their ballots from being counted. But there should be a mechanism that allows voters to correct a mistake they realize they made.

In fact, several county officials told The State they have reached out to voters in the past to let them provide a witness signature, or their own signature if it was missing, but this year the State Election Commission voted to prohibit this practice.

It needs to be allowed, not by Election Commission edict but by state law so it can’t be suddenly changed days before an election.

Better still, let’s do away with the witness requirement — along with the restrictions that will return next year on which registered voters are allowed the special privilege of casting absentee ballots.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com

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Nov. 28

The Index-Journal on COVID-19 concerns following the Thanksgiving holiday and approaching Christmas:

We won’t deny having concerns on the heels of one of the country’s biggest and most traveled holidays, Thanksgiving. Moreover, we have concerns for the Christmas holiday.

We have concerns that thanks to the pandemic, more people than ever went hungry Thursday on what is likely the most food-related holiday. And concerns about how long that will last as person after person who never had a problem putting meals on their tables are having to visit food banks for the first time in their lives.

And we have concerns that people put family visits above all else and traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday. Not only does the Thanksgiving weekend rank among the highest when it comes to traffic fatalities, but our concerns extend beyond that. Our concerns are that these travels will mean the coronavirus is also well-traveled and will be unwittingly shared among family and friends and across borders.

Christmas? The concerns are quite similar.

We have concerns for those whose will yet go hungry and for those for whom Christmas will be less joyous because gifting has been eliminated or reduced as a result of job loss. We have concerns it will be less joyous because so many people will be missing family members whose lives have been claimed by the coronavirus. And yes, we have concerns about people’s plans to travel for the Christmas holiday and the implications that travel might mean with respect to COVID-19 cases.

South Carolina has seen multiple consecutive daily reports of COVID-19 numbers being above 1,000. The nation is seeing a significant spike — a second wave, really — of positive cases and, with that, deaths.

For many, this past week has given reason to be thankful. But for far too many, finding reasons to give thanks proved most difficult.

Let’s all do our part then to try to ensure people we know and those we do not know have a safe and happy holiday season by being sensible during the pandemic. Let’s do our part to give them and, really, all of us a reason to be hopeful as we near the end of 2020 and begin to welcome 2021.

You know the drill.

Mask. Handwashing. Physical distancing.

Online: http://www.indexjournal.com

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Nov. 25

The Times and Democrat on the end of a particularly busy hurricane season:

Among the blessings to be counted this Thanksgiving is the end of hurricane season -- at last.

There are a few more days to go until Nov. 30, and in this unpredictable year, nothing seems certain. But here’s hoping that the record-breaking season is finally over.

It has been one for the record books.

Early predictions of 15-20 named storms in 2020 gave way to official forecasts in August of 25 named storms and six major hurricanes, more than double the 1981-2010 historical averages.

Even that prediction fell short. There have been 31 tropical depressions, of which 30 became tropical storms. Thirteen became hurricanes, including six major hurricanes.

In the United States, the Gulf Coast, in particular Louisiana, got the worst of things, but millions of people felt the effects of tropical systems from June until nearly Thanksgiving.

And it seems that, too, is a pattern. Not only are there more storms, but the storms are remaining stronger for longer over land. Locations such as Orangeburg County know well that hurricanes are not just coastal events. We’ve got a history to prove the damage can be severe.

According to AccuWeather, a new study says hurricanes in the North Atlantic are staying stronger after making landfall, which suggests these storms could cause greater destruction in areas farther from the coast in the future.

The research, which was published Nov. 11 in the journal Nature, examined the rate that these storms “decay,” or weaken, by analyzing historical intensity data for storms that made landfall over North America from 1967 to 2018. The paper’s authors cited a rise in ocean temperatures amid a warming climate as the key factor behind the trend.

The study was conducted by researchers Lin Li and Pinaki Chakraborty, both of whom work at Japan’s Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology. According to Nature, the study authors found “a significant long-term shift towards slower decay,” which allows storms to maintain a higher intensity over land for a longer time period. This slower period of decay was said to align “with a long-term regional mean sea surface temperature over the Gulf of Mexico and the western Caribbean, which are adjacent to land and supply the moisture for the storms before landfall.”

AccuWeather lead tropical expert Dan Kottlowski, who has been with the company for more than four decades, said he’s been noticing through the years that once a hurricane or tropical storm makes landfall, it seems o linger longer.

“I think due to the increased oceanic heat content and overall warm waters, hurricanes might have a more robust and consistent moisture profile,” said Kottlowski, who was not involved in the research. “This will have to be studied more closely, but the hypothesis being proposed here seems logical.”

This year, The T&D Region saw minimal impact from hurricanes but was affected by wind and rain from a number of the storms that came ashore far away and turned east. As much as the news that stronger storms impacting inland areas is not what we want to read, the 2020 track record gives credence to the research.

We’ll have to be prepared and wait for 2021 while we give thanks that the 2020 season is ending.

Online: https://thetandd.com