Politics & Government

Is Donald Trump driving more minority voters to register in SC?

Voting in South Carolina
Voting in South Carolina

This year’s unique – and uniquely divisive – presidential race may be driving up S.C. voter registration.

That’s the implication in some data out ahead of Saturday’s S.C. deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 8 general election.

In a campaign where Republican nominee Donald Trump has made immigration a central focus – including calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals,” and promising to make Mexico pay for a wall on the southern U.S. border – the number of registered Hispanic voters in South Carolina is up more than 40 percent from 2012.

That’s not good news for Trump, who is not drawing well from Hispanic-American voters, according to polls.

Numbers from the S.C. Election Commission show 43,550 self-identified Hispanic voters in the state as of last week. In 2012, the state had only 31,295 Hispanic voters. Even in 2014, only 34,663 voters identified as Hispanic.

A similar jump can be seen in the number of Asian voters, who grew 10 percent from 2012 to 2014 – to 21,961 – but increased by more than 20 percent in 2016 – to 26,421.

Combined, the two voting groups still only account for about 2 percent of the S.C. electorate, which remains 69 percent white and 28 percent black.

However, the number of registered voters statewide is larger than in the last two presidential elections. In all, the number of S.C. voters is up about 8 percent from 2012 and about 22percent from 2008.

The number of Hispanic and Asian S.C. voters in 2008 aren’t available, as the state only recorded 52,457 “other” voters that year after accounting for its white and black electors.

40 percent jump in the number of Hispanic voters since 2012

32 percent jump in the number of Asian voters since 2012

But there is bad news for the presidential campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the latest S.C. numbers as well.

The number of younger voters – important to Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 election campaigns – is down, to 262,423 now from 289,089 in 2012.

However, the November election is sparking the interest of some young voters. On Tuesday’s National Voter Registration Day, the student-led group Lead the Way registered 2,306 new voters at the University of South Carolina, almost all of them students. In one day, the group blew past its goal of 2,000 for the semester. Thus far this school year, the group has 3,541 voters.

Kathryn Stoudemire, Lead the Way’s student marketing director, said the registration drive probably was boosted by the first presidential debate, held the night before.

“A lot of them weren’t registered before the debate, but after they watched it, they said, ‘Hey, I need to get out and vote.’ ”

The largest group of new voters is usually students who previously were unregistered or have moved from elsewhere to attend school, according to canvassers who collect registrations in the Columbia area.

But South Carolina also has a growing population of new voters who move here from another state.

“We got a whole congressional district out of it last time,” said College of Charleston political science chair Gibbs Knotts, referring to the 7th District seat in Congress, which South Carolina added after the 2010 census. “There’s a whole group of people who have moved down here from New Jersey or Ohio.”

Knotts said South Carolina could make it easier for new voters to register. It could, for instance, relax voter ID requirements – particularly irksome for students without local driver’s licenses – and introduce “no excuse” early voting before Election Day.

Some oppose those measures, saying they fear voter fraud. But, Knotts says, “I like it because I like for people to vote.”

Get registered to vote

The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 8 general election in South Carolina is 30 days prior to the election. This year, that’s Saturday.

▪ To register, go to scvotes.org or contact your county’s voter registration office.

▪ Some county election offices will have office hours Saturday to accept last-minute registrations. Both Richland and Lexington counties will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

▪ Registration applications sent by mail must be postmarked by Saturday. Online registrations must be submitted by midnight Saturday.

Voter growth

The number of registered voters in SC is up 22 percent since 2008

2016, through Sept. 27: 3,104,658

2014: 2,881,408

2012: 2,874,001

2008: 2,552,281