Roughly the same number of South Carolinians have voted early in Tuesday’s election this year as four years ago.
The could be bad news for S.C. Democrats.
They have been focusing their long-shot efforts of unseating Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and other GOP officeholders on increasing voter turnout, particularly among black voters, who form the base of the S.C. party.
But South Carolina’s political underdogs still have a chance if the increased number of registered voters in the state this year — 250,000 more than four years ago — translates into more ballots cast at the polls Tuesday.
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As of Wednesday afternoon, 117,746 absentee ballots had been issued statewide, according to the S.C. Election Commission. Four years ago, six days prior to the governor’s election, 113,226 absentee ballots had been issued.
The close numbers indicate a similar level of interest in the midterm elections as in 2010, when Republicans swept every statewide officer on the ballot, said Citadel political scientist Scott Buchanan.
Republican Haley of Lexington beat Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden by 4.5 percentage points in 2010. The two are on the ballot again Tuesday with Libertarian Steve French of Charleston and United Citizens Party candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves of Fairfield.
In the Haley-Sheheen re-match, Democrats — outspent by Republican Haley by a more than 2-to-1 margin — have been stressing voter turnout, bringing in Vice President Joe Biden recently, for example, to urge voters to show up at the polls.
“The energy and the curiosity that voters have about this election will increase exponentially over the course of the next few days,” said S.C. Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison.
Harrison said his party has been pushing to get as many voters as possible to vote early — via absentee ballots — because they have to work Tuesday or they are seniors.
In addition, petition candidate Tom Ervin of Greenville, who was running as an “independent Republican,” dropped out of the race Tuesday and endorsed Sheheen.
But the vice president’s pleas and Ervin’s last-minute endorsement might not be enough to draw voters to polls.
While the total number of absentee ballots issued this year is similar to four years ago, the total number of voters has increased by about 250,000 to 2.88 million from 2.63 million.
But that doesn’t mean 250,000 more people will show up at the polls. “It’s always hard to tell with the newly registered whether they’re going to show up or not,” said Buchanan, attributing most of the increase to growth in the state’s population.
Historically, the African-American base of the Democratic Party also has not turned out in midterm elections, Buchanan said. Midterm elections draw “older and whiter voters,” he said, adding that usually helps Republicans.
However, Harrison said African-American voters are casting ballots more often in non-presidential elections.