COLUMBIA — It seems voters at many Richland County precincts may wait in line until 9 or 10 tonight to cast ballots.
At the Keenan Precinct, which votes at Sanders Middle School, at Pinebelt and Two Notch roads, there were still 150 people in line at 7:45 p.m.
People voting said they waited three hours to cast their ballots; 677 had voted so far.
Precinct worker Betty Miles said two years ago, the precinct had eight machines for mid-term elections. This time, there were four, but one was used for curbside voting. "It wasn't enough," Miles said. Poll workers expect to be there past 11, she said.
Wanda McKeever got in line at 4:15 -- after checking on the line two times earlier in the day. By 7:45, she was only half-way to the booths. "I've been standing in line, calling the Election Commission. It took me an hour to get through. I had to leave a message, which they probably won't return."
One young voter said she watched the entire Hunger Games movie on her iPad, and that was in between talking to people, she said.
At 7 p.m. more than 80 people were still in line outside the Episcopal Church of St. Simon and St. Jude at the Riverwalk Precinct near Irmo, while roughly twice that many waited to vote inside.
Rows of parked cars lined Kennerly Road for about a half-mile in each direction.
Hank Weed was among those waiting outside and expected to be there for some time.
Weed said he received a text message around 6:30 p.m. from his wife, Jennifer, who got in line at 4:30 p.m. but had only made it through one of two buildings on her way to the voting booth.
Weed said poll workers had not said how long they expected it would take to get the remainder voters though the line.
"I have no clue, but Im going to wait," he said.
At 7:30 p.m., things might have begun to clear up at the Spring Valley West precinct -- at least everyone was inside the building.
Once inside, people were having to wait an hour or less.
The precinct, which votes at the Jewish Community Center, had 4 1/2-hour waits earlier in the day.
At the Richland County Election Commission, the line was still out of the door at 7:30. Workers hoped everyone would finish voting before 9 p.m.
The lines to vote in Richland and Lexington counties were so long this morning that its taking longer than usual for them to thin out.
At 11 a.m., long lines still were reported at multiple precincts, including Rosewood, Martin Luther King Park and Dutch Fork Middle School in Richland County. Many voters are complaining that there are fewer voting machines than in the past, or that many machines are not working.
In Spartanburg County, two precincts gave up on their non-working electronic machines and went to provision paper ballots until their machines could be repaired, according to county officials.
State elections officials say there hasnt been a major reduction in the number of machines. In some cases, people might be making comparisons to recent primary elections, when precincts were combined, thus putting more machines in a voting location for the primary. The state law is to have one voting machine for every 250 voters.
Lines are expected, particularly in the morning of a presidential election, said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the state election commission. A lot of people try to vote before work. My experience is that voters see long lines and assume that not enough machines is the problem. ... Lines should shorten as the morning goes along.
Whitmire reminds that the best times to vote to avoid lines are between 9 a.m. and noon and between 2-5 p.m.
The state has set a new record with absentee voting, and theres the potential for an overall record turnout today, Whitmire said. The State Election Commission thanks voters for their enthusiasm and patience at the polls today.
David Eddy of Northeast Richland complained that he could not find a place to park at 8:30 a.m. at Ponder Elementary School precinct and was told there was a two-hour wait to vote. He decided to leave and come back. Three hours later, he said, he was told the wait would be three hours.
This is outrageous, Eddy said. Only people without jobs and living on entitlements can waste this much time. I feel disenfranchised by this mess. Heads should roll for preventing working people from voting.
At Martin Luther King Park precinct in Columbia, there were only three voting machines, compared to five during the last presidential election, according to the precinct manager. He said he had asked for two more machines.
Turnout at one of Lexington Countys largest precincts Whitehall was running well ahead of the 2008 presidential race, veteran poll manager Henry Butler said Tuesday morning.
I would say its 50 percent higher, Butler said. We have been swamped since we got here.
As of 11:15 a.m., 774 of the precincts 2,387 registered voters had cast ballots at Seven Oaks Park.
Butler, who said he has worked the largely Republican Whitehall precinct since 1994, termed the turnout "exceptional."
Voting at Pontiac Elementary School took patience as a line extended out the door. There were reports that some people became so frustrated with the wait said to be 90 minutes or more that they left in frustration. Others stood outside in the early morning chill until parts of the school were opened to more people.
Barbara Garrett, poll manager at the Pontiac precinct, said the school had only four voting machines, but had contacted the state Election Commission about supplying more machines. She said the precinct had more machines during the last presidential election.
They promised to be sending some more machines out, she said. You know how it is with presidential elections. But everybody seems to understand the long lines.
Garrett said she didnt know that anyone had left, but voter Felicia Pention said shed seen several people leave.
This has been not good. Ive been in line at least an hour and a half, she said. I have thought about walking away, but I have not. I have seen plenty of others who have walked away. I said to them to come back. They said they would.
Some voters and apparently some candidates were confused by changing district lines. One voter contacted The State to complain that no Richland County Council race was on her ballot. Upon closer inspection, her address is in one of the districts not up for election this cycle. That might be a surprise to candidates Jim Manning and Michael Letts, who peppered the neighborhood with signs and fliers.
At Trenholm Park, the doors didnt open until 7:27 a.m., and by then about 20 people in line had given up and left. The wait to vote was about 90 minutes after the doors opened. Three hours later, vehicles were parking in a neighboring gas station, and the wait was two hours to vote.
Not every precinct was so busy. There was no line at West Columbia 44 precinct at 11:30 a.m., but the line was out the door at nearby Cayce 35.
The day broke cold, grey and bustling in the Columbia area. Or at least voters were hustling to get to the polls, where they complained via Twitter about the long waits.
Voters at both the Oak Pointe Elementary precinct in Richland County reported that voting machines didnt get online until 7:45 a.m. Many other voters waiting in lines reported that their precincts had fewer voting booths than in previous elections, and many precincts had malfunctioning machines.
Pinehurst Park in Columbia was down to two machines much of the first hour before its third machine got online. At Dutch Fork Middle School, where there are usually 10 voting machines, there were only four, and one of those wasnt working at 8 a.m. Poll workers were telling those in line to expect about a two-hour wait, but the wait ened up being more than three hours for some voters at that precinct.
At Cromer precinct in Lexington, only four of the five machines were working, but 87 people voted in the first hour. Voters were finishing their ballots quickly because of the low number of contested races, and they had only one constitutional amendment to consider. The average voting time at Cromer precinct in the first hour was three minutes.
Noelle Phillips and Bertram Rantin contributed