- Plaintiffs in a lawsuit to change absentee voting guidelines in South Carolina appear to have misled the court about their fears in leaving their homes.
- The Plaintiffs said they were under self-imposed “strict quarantine” because of health issues, but social media accounts tell a different story.
- One Plaintiff, a self-described “progressive” pastor at a Christian church, said his family is moving to live at a different location when his wife returns to work as a teacher, and his son goes back to school due to fears about the virus.
- However, he has posted photos of his activism on social media during a time he said he was under strict home quarantine.
- The pastor is also one of only 200 people followed by Representative Joe Cunningham, a South Carolina Democrat whose district encompasses Mount Pleasant, the pastor's hometown.
- The lawsuit seeks to fundamentally change the security and integrity of South Carolina elections and follows a trend of lawsuits filed by Democrats across the country.
As the country has experienced the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been sweeping attempts to fundamentally change the way the nation votes. Many states have altered and loosened the requirements to vote absentee and by mail, while critics have argued that mail-in and full absentee voting increases the possibility of voter fraud.
In recent months, Democrats across the country have made vote-by-mail a tenet of their campaigns, arguing that millions of Americans will be disenfranchised if they aren’t permitted to vote by mail because they are terrified to leave their houses due to the virus and the potential to spread it to vulnerable populations.
UncoverDC columnist Brian Cates showcased some of the hypocrisy in a recent column. President Trump has vociferously argued that mail-in voting would invite a myriad of issues, and be rife with fraud. His critics have attacked, claiming that mail-in voting is a safe and secure way to hold elections, despite numerous examples to the contrary. In fact, just this May a batch of absentee South Carolina ballots destined for Charleston ended up in Maryland, and before that, Greenville, SC absentee voters received the wrong ballots in the mail.
South Carolina Lawsuit to Change Absentee Voting
It seems that the claims of hypocrisy heard across the country are warranted, especially in the Palmetto State. A lawsuit filed in South Carolina raises questions about the integrity of the plaintiffs. On April 22, 2020, five individuals filed suit against the SC state election commission, the Chair of the SC state election commission, two members of the election commission, and Governor McMaster in his official capacity as Governor of South Carolina. The lawsuit challenged long-standing South Carolina election law and the “Excuse Requirement” for receiving an absentee ballot, which in South Carolina requires a witness signature. The Plaintiffs were also alleging that African American voters would be particularly disenfranchised given some data that shows they are disproportionally affected by the virus, and they are challenging the constitutionality of the witness signature requirement, in light of the pandemic.
However, legislation was passed in May after the suit was filed, which allowed every voter to vote absentee, thereby eliminating the need to move forward with the suit. The legislation expired on 7/1/2020, and the Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on July 13, 2020, for the November election, which is being litigated now.
The Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that they are all undergoing very strict self-quarantine, and are fearful of leaving the house, however, a detailed review of their social media accounts tells a much different story and raises the possibility that the Plaintiffs perjured themselves during depositions given in the case, and also in the complaint.
All of the photos and screenshots below were publicly available at the time of publishing.
Plaintiff Jeremy Rutledge
Reverend Jeremy Rutledge is a 49-year-old pastor who resides in Mt. Pleasant, SC, outside of Charleston. He represents that he has systemic scleroderma, a chronic, autoimmune disorder that affects the skin and internal organs. Rutledge says he suffers from interstitial lung disease and takes immunosuppressant medication to manage his condition. In the complaint, he claims he “has strictly self-quarantined himself at home with his wife and son since at least mid-March and does not anticipate that he will feel safe outside his home until a vaccine or cure for the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 have been developed or found.”
However, a look at the Facebook accounts of he and his wife tell a far different story than the one documented in this complaint.
On May 30, 2020, after Rutledge had asserted he was under “strict self-quarantine”, he posted on his Facebook page that he was with his wife and son and traveling to their “favorite birding spot” when he saw some people who had been stopped and were being questioned by police. Rutledge felt safe enough to travel with his family to birdwatch and get out of his car to film the police encounter, even though he had asserted he was in a strict self-quarantine.
On June 6, 2020, after Rutledge had asserted that he was under “strict self-quarantine” he posted a photo he had taken of a defaced cemetery headstone.
On June 17th, after Rutledge had asserted he was under “strict self-quarantine” because he was fearful of the virus, he posted on his Facebook page that he witnessed and possibly participated in an act of protest “two hours away” and a few block walk to Marion Square. This Facebook post shows that Rutledge had no issue traveling two hours from his home to engage in an act of protest or civil disobedience.
Similarly, on June 24, after Rutledge had asserted he was under “strict self-quarantine” because he was fearful of the virus and was a high-risk individual, he and his wife both posted photos of workers removing a statue in Charleston, SC. He also shared the same on Twitter. In the complaint, he even explained that his wife would be moving to another residence with their son should his wife need to return to work as a teacher, thereby eliminating the ability for her (or anyone) to be a witness to his absentee ballot. In a deposition, lawyers for the Defendants pressed Rutledge on different people he had visited with during the time period he alleged he was in “strict self-quarantine” and also challenged him on alternate ways to have a witness signature on his ballot while still respecting social distancing rules. You can excerpts of his deposition here:
Plaintiff Trena Walker
Plaintiff Trena Walker was listed as a Plaintiff on the suit until just a few weeks ago. She is a 53-year-old, single caregiver to three children under 12 who lives in the Mixson development in North Charleston, South Carolina. As per the complaint, “Ms. Walker is legally blind. She does not live with any person considered legally competent to sign legal documents in South Carolina. Ms. Walker intends to vote in the June primary and November general elections. She usually votes in person, but she is fearful of doing so again in forthcoming elections because her medical history of breast cancer and emphysema put her at high risk of grave complications from COVID-19. For that reason, Ms. Walker has followed social distancing and quarantine recommendations to the best of her ability and does not leave her home except when necessary to purchase food for herself and her children”
UncoverDC investigated the social media account of Trena Walker and found numerous instances where she left the house to protest alone or with her children.
On June 19th, 2020, Trena Walker shared both photos and Facebook updates about her protesting activities, even though she asserted in the lawsuit that she does not leave her home except to purchase food.
Similarly, on June 20th and 21st, Walker shared a status update which showcased a picture of her three children protesting in Charleston. UncoverDC has covered the faces of the children for publishing.
Then, on June 27th, Walker posted a status update where she spoke of her children swimming in a community pool, and her protest signs outdoors.
Lastly, on July 2, 2020, Trena Walker posted a status update insinuating that she wasn’t a fan of the mask mandate and thanking officers for providing her with masks….while she was at a public restaurant.
Laurie Zapp, founder of 501(c)4 Engage the Right, has been watching the lawsuit closely and has pointed out the hypocrisy of the Plaintiffs. She plans on attending the trial on September 22nd and has been actively working with the help of Engage the Right to clean voter rolls in South Carolina. When asked for comment on this issue, she said “It is clear that the Plaintiffs in this lawsuit are perfectly content to leave their homes to protest, birdwatch, and socialize with others. This reaffirms our longstanding fear that the actions being taken on behalf of South Carolina democrats are not because of a legitimate fear of COVID-19, but to affect the outcome of the 2020 election. Now more than ever, we need to ensure the integrity of our vote. If it is safe to watch the removal of statues and stop to take a video of law enforcement officers questioning someone, it is safe to go to the polls and vote. Our June primary allowed in-person voting, and it was safe for all. Engage the Right will continue to work to ensure all voters are represented honestly come November.”
It is evident that these Plaintiffs were not abiding by the strict quarantine they represented in the lawsuit, and felt safe to travel to various activities.
UncoverDC will continue to monitor this important story.
Tracy Beanz is the Founder and Editor in Chief at UncoverDC. You can follow her on Twitter @TracyBeanz