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Can’t make it to the presidential primary polls? You can vote absentee now

AP

Registered voters who cannot make it to the polls for February's Republican and Democratic presidential primaries now may be able to vote absentee.

The easiest way to vote absentee is to do so in person at your county voter registration and elections office. In one stop, you can apply to vote absentee, receive a ballot and cast your votes.

“In-person absentee voting is underway statewide for both the Republican and Democratic primaries,” said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the S.C. Election Commission.

If you have not registered to vote yet and plan to vote in the Feb. 20 GOP primary, you need to register before Wednesday’s deadline.

The easiest way to register to vote is online at scVOTES.org. To register online, you need a valid S.C. driver’s license or a Department of Motor Vehicles identification card.

Unlike many other states, South Carolina does not have “early voting,” whereby polls are open for some number of days before an election. However, absentee voting in South Carolina has grown more popular in recent years.

In the 2012 general election, for example, one in five ballots cast was an absentee vote. In 2002, a decade earlier, about 7 percent of general election ballots were absentee, according to the state elections office.

Absentee voting also has increased in recent presidential primaries, accounting for 4.7 percent of the ballots cast in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, up from 3.7 percent in the 2008 GOP and Democratic primary contests.

But first thing’s first: South Carolina law says you have to have a valid reason to vote absentee.

You can cast an absentee ballot if: You are 65 or older, on vacation on election day, a student living away from home, a member of the military or that member's spouse or dependents, a U.S. citizen living abroad, a person with a disability or someone attending a person with a disability, a government employee living away from home or that employee’s spouse or dependents, or have a religious objection to voting on Saturday.

Absentee ballots also can be cast if: you cannot make it to the polls for employment reasons, have jury duty on election day, are in jail awaiting trial, are serving as a poll watcher or manager, were admitted to the hospital as an emergency patient within four days of an election, or were attending a funeral within three days of an election.

How to vote absentee

Vote absentee in person

Until 5 p.m. the day before the election, you may vote absentee at your voter registration and elections office. Absentee voting in person is underway statewide. You will complete all steps – applying, receiving a ballot and casting your vote – at the same time.

Tip: To vote absentee in person, you will need one of the following: A S.C. driver's license, S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles ID card, a S.C. voter registration card with a photo, a federal military ID or a U.S. passport

Vote by mail, email or fax

Go online to scVOTES.org to request an application to cast an absentee ballot or contact your country voter registration and elections office by phone, mail, email or fax.

Return your signed application to vote absentee to your county voter elections office as soon as possible, but no later than 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before the election: Feb. 16 for the GOP primary and Feb. 23 for the Democratic primary.

You will be mailed a ballot. Return your signed absentee ballot to your county voter registration and elections office no later than 7 p.m. on the day of the election.

Tip: Be sure to request a ballot for the presidential primary you want to vote in. Pick one only: the Republican primary on Feb. 20 or the Democratic primary on Feb. 27.

Tip: Don't drag your feet, said Chris Whitmire, S.C. State Election Commission spokesman. To ensure your vote gets counted, get it in the mail early or hand-deliver it.

Want to check your status?

Go to scVOTES.org to check the status of your absentee ballot, your voter registration, find your polling place, see a sample ballot and more.

Dates to remember

Wednesday: Deadline to register to vote in the GOP presidential primaries.

You can register online with a driver’s license or a Department of Motor Vehicles ID. If you can’t register online, you may register by email or fax before midnight, or mail in your registration application postmarked by the deadline. You can register in person by the close of business Wednesday at your county voter registration and elections office.

Jan. 27: Deadline to register to vote in the Democratic presidential primaries

Feb. 19, 5 p.m.: Last day to vote absentee in person for the Feb. 20 GOP presidential primary

Feb. 26, 5 p.m.: Last day to vote absentee in person for the Feb. 27 Democratic presidential primary

SOURCE: S.C. State Election Commission

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