New early voting counts top 100K ahead of Tuesday primaries

Published: Jun. 13, 2022 at 4:54 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 13, 2022 at 10:38 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolinians will head to the polls Tuesday to vote in primary elections including governor, state superintendent of education, seats in Congress and the State House, and a multitude of local races.

But 100,450 South Carolinians already cast their ballots in the first early voting period under the state’s new election law.

That legislative change now gives South Carolinians the option to vote early in-person in statewide elections — for two weeks before primary and general elections and three days before runoffs — without needing an excuse to do so, as they previously did.

With Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signing that law just over two weeks before the first early voting period started May 31, the South Carolina Election Commission did not know how large a turnout to expect this time around.

“We were concerned about getting out the word and making sure everybody knew about it, being able to conduct early voting at all,” Deputy Executive Director Chris Whitmire said. “We had to get a lot of work done in those two weeks, which we did, and I would call it an unequivocal success.”

The number of South Carolinians casting their ballots in person rose every day of the two-week, statewide early voting period, with the 21,303 people voting on last Friday’s final day more than triple the first day’s total of 6,032.

Whitmire attributed that increase to a combination of voters becoming more aware of this new option and getting more tuned in to the primary races themselves as they got closer to election day.

It’s difficult to compare this year’s early, in-person voting turnout of 100,450 — roughly 3% of the more than 3.5 million South Carolinians currently registered to vote — to numbers from previous years, Whitmire said, with 2018 being the last midterm election and the last time South Carolinians voted for governor.

But early, in-person voting was more restrictive then because people needed a reason, like working or being out of town on election day, to cast their ballots ahead of time.

“You can’t compare it to 2020 either,” Whitmire said of the last statewide election, when no-excuse early voting was available temporarily to all voters because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It has the pandemic layered on top of it, and that changed out how people do things.”

But with this new option now permanently in place under the law, Horry (11,618 voters), Richland (9,346), Beaufort (7,858), Charleston (6,464), and Berkeley (5,323) saw the largest turnouts over the last two weeks among all 46 counties.

Whitmire said specific races, candidates, and issues can be expected to drive up turnout, with Republican primaries in South Carolina’s 1st and 7th Congressional Districts, in the Lowcountry and Grand Strand-Pee Dee, among the higher-profile Congressional primary races in the country.

But with the exception of Charleston, which had just one early voting site open, the other four counties in the top five all had at least three places where people could vote early, with as many as five offered in Richland. The law allows counties to set up between one and seven early voting sites, at their discretion.

“I think as we go forward in the future and there’s more time to plan, I think we’ll see more early voting locations in the future, in November of this year and other statewide elections, and I think you’ll see the early voting numbers continue to rise,” Whitmire said. “You see that if you build it, they will come, right, and the more locations you open, the more options you give voters, the more voters will take advantage of that and vote before election day.”

By the time absentee, mail-in ballots are tallied up, Whitmire expects around 115,000 to 120,000 South Carolinians will have voted before election day.

As opposed to the new early, in-person voting period, in which people could cast their ballots before election day simply because they wanted to, voters do need a reason to get a mail-in ballot, and those qualifications changed under the new law.

South Carolinians can still cast their ballots Tuesday if they have not done so yet.

Polls will be open statewide from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and anyone in line by 7 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

People need to bring their photo ID or voter registration card with them to cast their ballot, and they can visit scvotes.gov to find their polling place and review a sample ballot, to familiarize themselves with the candidates and questions before them when they vote.

In the event of a runoff, taking place if no candidate in a race receives more than 50% of the votes, in-person early voting will be available next week Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, with the runoff election scheduled for June 28.

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