Ballot precinct changes sought in Lexington County

tflach@thestate.comAugust 11, 2013 

— Steady population growth is pushing Lexington County election officials to seek to ease overcrowding in a pair of precincts in the Chapin and Gilbert areas while possibly adding a new one in Red Bank.

The changes – the fourth set proposed since 2005 – are necessary to prevent lengthy delays in voting, county election director Dean Crepes said.

“We’re constantly having to adjust with population growing,” he said. “We’re always looking at how to improve voter flow.”

That’s a precaution against the problems and mistakes that backed up voting lines in neighboring Richland County as much as seven hours last year.

Lexington County officials want voters to wait no more than 30 minutes during busy periods before and after work for commuters, with minimal delay otherwise.

There are 165,000 registered voters in the 720-square-mile county, up nearly 5,000 in a year.

Changes in the works would move some voters to adjoining precincts:

•  About 800 of nearly 3,300 voters in the Amicks Ferry precinct near Chapin would be shifted to Dreher Island precinct that now has nearly 1,000.

•  About 800 of nearly 2,400 voters in the Pond Branch precinct near Gilbert would be moved to the Fairview and Mims precincts, with each gaining about 400 to bring their totals, respectively, to 1,200 and 800.

•  Boiling Springs South precinct in Red Bank may be split to create a 93rd precinct out of concern that parking at a community center where ballots are cast has become inadequate to handle its 2,400 voters.

Each change also is designed to reduce travel distance to the polls.

Election officials want the changes in place for statewide and legislative races on the November 2014 ballot.

The changes require legislative approval, usually given without resistance.

“We’ll evaluate it for possible problems, but they’re the professionals on this, so you follow what they feel is best,” said state Rep. Todd Atwater, R-Lexington.

Crepes plans to open polling spots in the north and southern parts of the county in addition to election headquarters in the town of Lexington to allow balloting to start a few weeks in advance of the traditional November date, if lawmakers agree. He likes the idea, saying it would make balloting “more efficient.” Based on absentee ballot trends, Crepes estimates 50,000 county voters would take advantage of that if allowed.

Currently, 16 of 92 precincts have more than 2,200 voters – the maximum that Crepes wants – while another nine are near that ceiling.

For now, the 648 voting machines on hand seem adequate, he said.

That is about 30 less than the state standard of one machine per 250 voters. But it’s sufficient to handle the usual turnout of up to three-fourth of voters at any ballot, Crepes said.

County officials run numerous equipment checks and update poll workers training before each ballot to reduce the chance of election-day snafus.

The effort and computerized ballots have improved the speed in reporting outcomes in the past decade, ending the county’s reputation for slow counts.

“After every election, we look at the situation to keep improving,” Crepes said.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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