Online voter registration is a hit, but fewer register this year in SC

gnsmith@thestate.comOctober 9, 2012 

About 17,000 new S.C. voters will cast ballots in November, thanks to a new system that allowed them to register online.

Between Tuesday and Saturday of last week, about 25,000 South Carolinians logged into the S.C. Election Commission’s newly updated website. About 17,000 registered to vote and another 8,000 changed their addresses.

“When we turned (the new system on) on Tuesday, people were using it immediately,” said Chris Whitmire, Election Commission spokesman. “There were several hundred within the first hour. The overwhelming response of S.C. voters shows that they’re eager to vote in November, and now it’s easier than ever.”

South Carolina is the 13th state to allow online voter registration, approved by the Legislature earlier this year. Legislators approved $130,000 in state money for the new online system, which requires a S.C. driver’s license or state-issued ID to use.

The online system is more efficient and accurate, said state Rep. Laurie Funderburk, D-Kershaw, the bill’s sponsor.

For example, when people mail in voter registration forms or change-of-address forms, the information must be copied and entered into the state’s system. “You’re creating greater opportunity for error,” Funderburk said.

Despite the last-minute blitz of online voter registrations, South Carolina has registered fewer voters this presidential cycle than in 2008.

Between Jan. 1, 2008 and Oct. 7, 2008, more than 187,000 South Carolinians registered to vote. During the same period this year, about 145,000 registered, according to the S.C. Election Commission.

While the reason for the decrease is unclear, it could be a comparative lack in enthusiasm among voters. Several polls have shown an enthusiasm gap among both Democratic and Republican voters who are not excited by President Barack Obama or GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Census data shows that about 600,000 South Carolinians of voting age are not registered to vote. However, the number actually eligible to vote could be lower because that data includes residents convicted of felonies or found mentally incompetent.

Reach Smith at (803) 414-1340.

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