Turnout on Election Day Tuesday is expected to be roughly the same as four years ago. But there still may be lines at the polls in some areas, including Lexington County.
Wordy sales tax proposals on the ballot in some areas, including Lexington, could cause lines at some polling places. The state’s new voter ID law also will be in place for the first time in a general election.
Heading into the weekend, roughly the same number of absentee ballots had been submitted as in 2010. That suggests the governor’s race has similar voter interest as in 2010, when Republican Gov. Nikki Haley beat Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen by 4.5 percentage points.
As of Friday afternoon, 143,853 absentee ballots had been issued for Tuesday’s election. That is down slightly from the 156,075 ballots that had been issued on the Sunday before the election four years ago, the closest comparable number the S.C. Election Commission could provide.
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Those figures indicate voter turnout will be similar to 2010, said Winthrop University political scientist Karen Kedrowski, adding that turnout is lower in midterm elections than for presidential elections.
“That is a particular challenge to Democratic candidates because Democratic voters, demographically, tend to be those who have less of a tie to the electoral system and are more difficult to activate without the excitement of a presidential election,” Kedrowski said.
That lower excitement level can result in a massive difference in the number of voters who show up at the polls.
In 2010, for example, 1.4 million South Carolinians cast ballots, compared to nearly 2 million voters two years later in the 2008 presidential election.
Kedrowski expects Republicans to sweep statewide races and most congressional races in South Carolina. That’s because voters who turn out in midterm elections tend to be more affluent, more politically engaged and more conservative, she said.
But even a moderate turnout could mean waits at polls with lengthy sales tax proposals on the ballot.
Lexington County election director Dean Crepes said county officials are trying to minimize delays by adding 200 poll workers, putting the ballot online and distributing printed versions of the ballot questions voters will see at the polls.
But longer-than-usual waits still are likely at Lexington’s 96 precincts if some voters arrive unprepared and undecided.
S.C. Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said voters can help cut down on the waiting time by going to the Election Commission website, viewing sample ballots and planning ahead.
“Voters should avoid deliberating these issues in the booth – whether to vote for a candidate or whether to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a question,” Whitmire said.
Ballot issues such as the sales tax proposal and two statewide constitutional amendments – one on whether to permit raffles, the other on whether to make the adjutant general an appointed position – add to the election-year noise but do not drive turnout, Winthrop’s Kedrowski said.
Voters do not go to the polls to cast a ballot on a referendum question or constitutional amendment, she said. They go because they’re motivated to vote by an individual candidate.
Lower voter turnout in the midterm could be welcome in Richland County, holding its first election since the county’s 2012 voting fiasco, when a shortage of voting machines had people waiting in line for hours across the county.
Interim Richland County elections director Samuel Selph said that this year, one machine will be deployed for every 250 voters at each precinct, with surplus machines on standby in case anything goes wrong.
Prospective voters also can save time by arriving at the polls with one of the five state-accepted photo IDs, said the Election Commission’s Whitmire.
Acceptable IDs are a S.C. driver's license, Motor Vehicles-issued ID card, S.C. photo voter registration card, federal military ID or U.S. passport.
Tuesday will be the first general election held in South Carolina since the state adopted a voter ID law.
However, would-be voters who lack one of the state-required IDs still can vote. They can sign an affidavit stating why they do not have one of the forms of ID and cast a provisional ballot that must be counted, absent a specific challenge.
That step means the new ID law is unlikely to have a disproportionately negative impact on minority voters, such as elderly people of color who may not have a birth certificates, Winthrop’s Kedrowski said.
Other states with voter ID laws have not seen a discernible impact on their voter turnout, Kedrowski said.