South Carolina editorial roundup: Friday, May 8, 2020


Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Index-Journal

May 5

Staying safe while the state reopens

You know the carpenter's adage, right? Measure twice, cut once.

It simply and succinctly points to the need to avoid wasting time and materials, to being efficient, if you will and not rush the job at hand so hastily that it comes out botched.

In the days and weeks ahead as we continue sailing these uncertain pandemic waters, that advice applies. We are reopening restaurants and businesses, parks are reopened, and we are taking steps toward a return to some semblance of normalcy.

But haste makes waste, and measure twice and cut once is good to keep front of mind as we transition. We must do it smartly, we must do it by the book, even if that book is being revised as we navigate together.

Please, do your part. Don't rush out the door just because you can. If you're about to burst because you're tired of curbside delivery, takeout and your own kitchen, we get it. We're with you on that, but play by the rules of the eating establishments.

Be smart about washing your hands. Still.

Be smart about using disinfectant wipes at the grocery stores and retail outlets that provide them. Still.

Be smart about keeping hand sanitizer handy. Still.

Be smart about wearing a mask when you do venture out to where others are also shopping or eating. Still. OK, you can take the mask off to eat and drink, but you know what we mean.

Simply put, be smart. And be safe. And be well.

If we all go about this the right way, chances are we'll keep those unwanted numbers down.

The Post and Courier

May 3

Local governments must allow public access to meetings

As businesses across South Carolina start to reopen and move toward a new normal, local governments will feel increased pressure to do the same. And they soon must figure out what that should look like, particularly when it comes to holding public meetings.

Since March, elected leaders in many cities, counties and towns have held mostly emergency meetings only, usually using remote technology such as Zoom or conference calls. This is an imperfect but understandable approach to tackling urgent matters while limiting the pandemic's reach into their communities.

But they now face a new challenge. It's clearly not yet safe to end social distancing, but as the weeks go by, local officials undoubtedly will feel growing pressure to address things that have been placed on the back burner - decisions on policies, spending and land use that have little or nothing to do with COVID-19. And they must find a new way to hold meetings that are inclusive, transparent and safe.

This problem flared first in Charleston, where City Council approved an ordinance allowing its zoning, planning and design boards to meet - and hold public hearings - remotely. We have joined preservation and other advocacy groups in questioning this step, and to the city's credit, its staff is moving slowly as it tries to find the best approach.

Planning director Jacob Lindsey has vowed no such meetings will be held until the city can figure out how to make them as good as or better than the public meetings and hearings the city held before COVID-19 struck. It's proving complicated, and planners still are working with technology staff and lawyers on the best way. "The board members should be able to interact with the public in a way that is conversational. They need to be able to see and hear the person," Mr. Lindsey tells us. "Written comments ahead of time read into the record don't meet the standard."

Mount Pleasant is grappling with this too, as its Town Council directed staff to resume planning meetings using remote technology, but Barry Wolff, chairman of the town's Board of Zoning Appeals, has pushed back. "Can we, as a town, make sure that every resident has the opportunity or ability to access a computer with a webcam to join a meeting as easily as they can walk into Town Hall?" his letter to town officials asked. "I fear we could somehow be opening ourselves up legally doing it this way."

The best example might have been set in North Charleston, where City Council met in person last month to review the pandemic's potential effect on city finances. Council members met in a coliseum conference room, much larger than their usual chambers, and kept at least 6 feet apart. Some officials wore masks; others didn't, but the arrangement appeared as safe as possible, not unlike the in-person, socially distanced meetings being held by Gov. Henry McMaster's accelerateSC task force.

Of course, we recognize local governments attempting to hold socially distanced, in-person meetings could quickly run into logistical problems if there's something on their agendas that draws a crowd. Preparing for that eventuality will be more complicated and will involve more than masks, hand sanitizer dispensers and masking tape on the floor. But we believe it can be done. And for local councils, boards and commissions deciding non-emergency matters, it must be done.

While in-person meetings are preferable for many reasons, this pandemic still has the potential to help local governments operate in a more inclusive and transparent fashion. Remote conferencing technology is not all bad, and as cities and counties get better at it, they should consider maintaining it to complement (not replace) in-person meetings whenever possible.

This pandemic has taken much from us all already. As we move through and ultimately past its peak, we must do all we can to ensure our trust in our government does not fall victim, too.

The Aiken Standard

May 2

Lawmakers should work on expanding absentee voting

The South Carolina Legislature plans to return to work on May 12, presumably to allow for an extension to pass the state budget.

Here's something else lawmakers need to do: work on expanding opportunities for South Carolinians to vote absentee.

The June 9 primary elections are a little more than five weeks away, but the global pandemic caused by the coronavirus is still not over. Anything that can be done remotely, like absentee voting, will help flatten the curve and keep citizens safe.

Our area will be voting on several contested races, including Aiken County sheriff, Aiken County Council and Second Judicial Circuit solicitor. House and Senate seats, at the federal and state levels, also are on the ballot.

Currently, state law says that absentee ballots can be cast by voters who aren't physically able to leave their home, are away from their home county for work or vacation, have to work the entire time polls are open, if they are sick or mourning the loss of a just-deceased relative, or if they are 65 or older. The caveat is that the absentee ballot must be signed and witnessed.

South Carolina doesn't allow "no excuse" absentee voting or early voting.

The State Election Commission said last week it has "no authority" to delay or deviate from conducting the election because of the pandemic. The group said it is encouraging those who are eligible to vote absentee and is in the process of providing masks and gloves for poll workers and sanitizing materials for polling sites.

According to RepresentUS, which advocates voting by mail, South Carolina is one of seven "stalling states" that has not taken action on absentee voting. The other states are Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.

Neighboring states Georgia and North Carolina allow any voter to request a vote by mail, and a handful of states are allowing temporary vote-by-mail options because of the crisis.

"South Carolina is wasting valuable time to prepare for upcoming elections," said Josh Silver, co-founder and director of RepresentUs, in an email last week. "Keeping voters safe is not a partisan issue."

He's right. Voting is one of our most precious rights, and anything that states can do to get the vote out is strongly encouraged.

In South Carolina, lawsuits have been filed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the S.C. American Civil Liberties Union. The actions seek to expand absentee voting.

Even Marci Andino, the executive director of the election commission, wrote a letter to Attorney General Alan Wilson about the issue. Her letter, in part, asked "whether voters staying home due to the pandemic qualify for absentee voting."

The deadline to request an absentee ballot for the primary is June 5, but officials encourage voters to make the request at least one week in advance to ensure there is enough time to get the ballot in the mail.

Lawmakers aren't sure how long they will be in session, but expanding absentee voting is still worth looking into.

The clock is ticking.