Will more S.C. voters turn out for Tuesday’s election? It’s a trick question. Many already have.
Absentee voting — where voters can cast a ballot early if they can cite a reason that they can’t vote on Election Day itself — is up 40 percent from the last midterm election, four years ago.
As of Friday, 261,966 absentee ballots had been issued, even before polling places open at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
In 2014, a total of 156,594 absentee ballots were cast, domestically.
Absentee ballots are becoming a more popular way to vote in South Carolina. The total number of absentee votes so far equals a fifth of the 1.3 million votes cast in 2014.
That is close to the 23 percent total seen in the last presidential election year — 2016, when voting is more popular — and up from the 12 percent of voters who cast absentee ballots four years ago.
As of Friday, more than 230,000 of the absentee ballots issued had been returned.
Voters still can cast an absentee ballot in person at their local election office or a satellite location until the close of business Monday. Absentee ballots that are mailed back in will count if received on Election Day before 7 p.m.
Of those voting absentee so far, 178,995 have voted in person. Another 80,344 ballots have been issued by mail.
The increase in absentee ballots follows a boost in new voter registrations ahead of this year’s Oct. 17 deadline. More than twice as many new voters signed up to vote ahead of the midterm election this year — 90,844 previously unregistered South Carolinians signed up to vote this year, versus 42,878 in the same period in 2014.
This year, Charleston County has seen the most absentee ballots issued — 36,133. Charleston also is in the middle of a competitive race for the 1st District seat in the U.S. House between Republican Katie Arrington and Democrat Joe Cunningham.
The next largest absentee total is Richland County, with 24,782. That total could be, in part, due to the fact that both candidates for governor this year — Republican incumbent Henry McMaster and Democratic state Rep. James Smith — are from Columbia.
Greenville County has seen 18,018 ballots issued, and Beaufort County had the fourth most — 16,363.
African-American voters have requested 83,565 ballots, the largest number of them — 13,210 — in Richland County. Meanwhile, 174,236 ballots have been issued to white voters, with Charleston issuing by far the most — 26,296.
Comparatively fewer Hispanic voters have requested absentee ballots. Just more than 1,000 voters — 1,257, to be precise — who registered as Hispanic had requested absentee ballots as of Friday. The largest number of those requests — 172 — were in Charleston County, slightly ahead of the 168 issued in Greenville County.
Who can vote absentee?
You can vote absentee 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