Turnout in Tuesday’s SC primaries expected to be low

ccope@thestate.comJune 8, 2014 

— Turnout likely will be low in Tuesday’s primaries, determined by how many GOP voters are interested in an upstart GOP challenge to incumbent U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“The more turnout, the more likely you’ve got anti-Graham voters turning out,” said Scott Buchanan, a political science professor at The Citadel.

Anti-Graham voters can choose from among six GOP challengers on the Republican primary ballot.

If turnout is reported to be low Tuesday afternoon, that would mean there is little excitement among anti-Graham voters, Buchanan said.

As of midday Friday, 32,840 absentee ballots had been issued to voters and 25,051 had been returned, according to the State Election Commission.

Four years ago, 39,077 absentee ballots were cast in the June primaries. However, both parties had candidates for governor on the ballot that year.

This year, neither Republican Gov. Nikki Haley of Lexington nor her Democratic challenger, Vincent Sheheen of Camden, has a primary opponent.

In 2010, 26 percent of S.C. registered voters participated in the June primary, far below the 51.6 percent who cast ballots in that year’s November general election.

The high-water mark for voter turnout in recent S.C. history was the 2008 presidential election, when 75.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots, said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the Election Commission.

But presidential elections draw more voters, and high numbers are not expected in Tuesday’s primary.

“It would be unprecedented if 70 percent of the voters come out on Tuesday,” Whitmire said.

Historically, primary turnout is about 20 percent in a year when there is a governor’s race, he said.

Other races on the primary ballots may not prove a strong draw to voters, either.

While four Republicans are running for lieutenant governor in the GOP primary, Buchanan does not expect strong interest in that race.

In fact, he said, the recent political drama – involving a state Senate leader resigning from his leadership position to avoid becoming lieutenant governor – could dampen voters’ interest.

“I’m starting to conclude that a lot of voters might be shrugging their shoulders and saying ‘What do we even need a lieutenant governor for?’ ” Buchanan said.

This primary will be the first statewide election in which a new voter ID law will require voters to present photo identification at the polls.

But neither Buchanan nor Whitmire expects problems because of the law. Hundreds of smaller elections have been held since the law took effect in January 2013 and there have been few problems, they said.

“I really don’t anticipate any fireworks on the voter ID,” Buchanan said.

In both primaries, voters will be able to weigh in on controversial topics, including a question about legalizing medical marijuana on the Democratic ballot and an abortion-related question about giving constitutional rights to “pre-born persons” on the Republican ballot.

The questions are advisory only, and the results will not change anything. But Buchanan said the questions give the parties the chance to know what their core voters are thinking.

“They use it as a way of knowing: ‘OK, is the ground shifting beneath our feet or are we still where we think we are?’” he said.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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