At least 74,955 South Carolina voters won’t be listening to the presidential candidates make their final pitches this election year.
Those South Carolinians already have cast their ballots using the state’s absentee voting option. And the number of South Carolinians voting absentee is expected to go far higher.
“We’re about 15 to 20 percent ahead compared to the same numbers last time,” said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the S.C. Election Commission.
If more South Carolinians vote absentee, it could be good news for Democrats.
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In 2012, S.C. absentee voters opted for Democrat Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by 54-45, almost the reverse of the statewide total that year, when challenger Romney topped President Obama 54-44.
The absentee voting period started last week.
As of Wednesday, 207,429 South Carolinians have applied for an absentee ballot, hoping to get their vote out of the way well before Election Day. Of those, 74,955 actually had cast absentee ballot, and another 77,320 ballots had been issued. The balance were in process.
Like some other states, South Carolina doesn’t have “no fault” early voting. To vote absentee, a South Carolinian must meet certain criteria — having to work on Election Day, for instance, or being age 65 or older.
But voting absentee is a convenient option for more and more voters.
In 2012, 394,698 votes were cast absentee, some 20 percent of all S.C. votes cast that year. That was double the percentage of the absentee vote in 2004. Then, 9.7 percent of all votes were cast absentee — or 157,990.
The trend toward more absentee votes holds true even in election years when the presidential race isn’t on the ballot.
In 2014, 12.5 percent — or 157,278 — of all S.C. ballots were cast absentee, as opposed to 6.6 percent — or 73,230 votes — in 2002.
Absentee voting starts four weeks prior to Election Day. However, it was delayed this year in some counties where election offices were closed because of Hurricane Matthew.
Absentee ballots can be cast in person at the election office during office hours, or at another designated absentee polling station in some areas. County offices also open for absentee balloting on the Saturday before the election. Ballots also can be cast through the mail.
WHO CAN VOTE ABSENTEE?
You can vote before Election Day in South Carolina, if you are:
▪ A member (or spouse or dependent) of the military serving outside your county of residence
▪ Serving with the American Red Cross or USO attached to the military outside your county of residence (or the spouse or dependent of someone who is)
▪ A U.S. citizen now living overseas
▪ Physically disabled
▪ Attending school outside your county of residence (or the spouse or dependent of someone who is)
▪ Unable to vote on Election Day because of work
▪ A government employee (or spouse or dependent) serving outside your county of residence on Election Day
▪ On vacation on Election Day
▪ Serving on a jury on Election Day
▪ Admitted to a hospital as an emergency patient on Election Day or within four days prior
▪ Have a death or funeral in the family within three days of the election.
▪ Confined to a jail or pre-trial facility, prior to conviction
▪ Attending to someone who is sick or physically disabled
▪ Serving as a poll watcher, poll manager or county election official during the election
▪ Are at least 65 years old.
SOURCE: S.C. Election Commission
TO VOTE ABSENTEE
To get your absentee ballot, you must make an application to your local election office by 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4. Ballots must be returned no later than Election Day, Nov. 8. (If you mail it back that day or Monday, it’s probably too late.) Ballots also can be cast in person at your county elections and voter registration office until close of business on Monday, Nov. 7.
MORE IN SC VOTING ABSENTEE
2012: 394,698 absentee votes cast, or 19.9 percent of the total
2008: 342,364, or 17.7 percent of the total
2004: 157,990, or 9.7 percent of the total
2000: 91,504, or 6.4 percent of the total
SOURCE: S.C. Election Commission