It’s no secret that a criminal record has a major impact in many areas of life: the ability to find a good job and being able to support yourself and your family, the ability to find safe and affordable housing, and the reality of facing the lifelong stigma of having a criminal record. Since we are in an election year, it makes sense to discuss an area where there is a lot of misinformation: voting rights for people with a criminal record.
Many people believe their criminal record means they have permanently lost their right to vote. While that may be true for some people in certain states, it is not true for people living in South Carolina. In South Carolina, voting rights are automatically restored once a person is released from incarceration and completed probation or parole. All a person has to do is re-register to vote.
How Do I Register to Vote if I Have a Criminal Record?
Once you have completed your entire sentence, including any period of probation or parole, you must re-register 30 days before any SC election in order to vote. Good news is there are several ways to register! South Carolina has online voter registration, but before registering at scvotes.org, you need to have your S.C. Driver’s License or DMV ID card. If you have moved, you must first update your residence address with the DMV. You are also able to print out an application then mail, fax, or email it to your county voter registration office. And lastly, you can always register in person at your county registration office.
**If you are registering for the first time in your county by paper application or in person and do not have a current valid photo ID, you must attach a copy of a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government document that shows your name and address in that county**.
If you are in jail awaiting trial or are in jail for failure to pay child support, you are able to vote by absentee ballot. Voting absentee is a process, and you or an immediate family member must request an absentee application from your county voter registration office. Once you have submitted your absentee ballot application, you can either have someone print your ballot and mail it to you at the jail, or you can choose receive the ballot by mail. You must fill out the absentee ballot and mail it back in to your county voter registration office before or by 7 P.M. on Election Day. You may also have another person return the ballot for you, but first you must complete an authorization to return absentee ballot form, available from your county voter registration office.
For most Americans, voting in local and national elections is the primary tool we have to fully participate in our democracy. Voting allows us to have a say in who represents us, give us a way to express our ideas, and it gives us a voice in the decisions that bind us. Exercising your right to vote is an honor, and everyone who has the opportunity to vote should do so with pride.