South Carolina’s Republican voters go to the polls today to make their choice for a presidential nominee. Check in often for updates from around the Midlands and the Palmetto State.
Jeb Bush announces he is suspending his presidential bid after an apparent distant finish in the South Carolina primary.
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Donald Trump has won the South Carolina Republican primary, a second-straight victory for the billionaire real estate mogul after his first-place finish in New Hampshire.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio are in close race for second.
Exit polls taken in South Carolina found that about three-quarters of Republican voters support a temporary ban on Muslims who are not American citizens from entering the United States. That's one of Trump's signature proposals.
A majority of voters looking for an outsider candidate supported Trump, providing a boost to the first-time candidate for office.
At Florida senator Marco Rubio's primary night celebration headquarters in Columbia, Fox News Channel was broadcast on two large screens near the stage.
Nearly 15 minutes after S.C. polls closed, the channel went live from Rubio headquarters and supporters cheered and waved signs, then broke out into a chant of "Marco, Marco, Marco."
Lexington County precincts have been “steady but not slammed” with voters,” said Dean Crepes, the county’s director of Registration and Elections.
Crepes said those precincts have had no major hiccups today but that the county’s voter turnout might be lower than he expected early this morning.
Crepes said he expects turnout to be about 30 percent, down from the 40 percent he predicted initially.
Some Anderson County residents are waiting for more than an hour to cast votes in the S.C. Republican primary, the Anderson Independent-Mail reports.
Some voters told the newspaper they had to wait in line an hour and 45 minutes to vote at McCants Middle School in Anderson, where they said only one voting machine was working for a long period Saturday.
Katy Smith, Anderson County's elections director, reportedly said turnout was higher at some precincts that it had been in previous presidential primaries and that she had trouble recruiting poll workers.
Voter turnout in Richland County is “substantially higher than 2012,” but hasn’t caused the problems that plagued the county four years ago, according to county Election Commission Director Sam Selph.
Absentee turnout is three times higher than it was in 2012, Selph said.
There were minor hiccups early in the day, most before the precincts opened, he said, but nothing like the long lines and vote-counting delays of the 2012 election.
“Things are going very well here in Richland County,” Selph said.
The Election Commission’s call center has had an uneventful day, with “virtually no” calls coming in, he said.
“That means voters are going to the polls and voting and leaving,” Selph said. “That’s a very good thing.”
Real estate mogul Donald Trump was the consistent favorite in preference polls from the S.C. GOP primary, the Associated Press reports.
Ted Cruz of Texas hovered in second with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in third.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson were trailing them.
With a few hours left before polls close today, voters can find their polling locations here.
In Red Bank, Dawn Hoover, a 40-year-old construction office manager, said she voted for real estate mogul Donald Trump because America could benefit from having a businessman in the White House.
“We need more of a business person with a business mind,” Hoover said. “I don’t agree with everything he says or does, but I don’t agree with any of the others.”
Josh Johnson, an unemployed 29-year-old, said he voted for Ben Carson because he likes the retired neurosurgeon’s demeanor.
“He seems to be well-spoken, he seems to be more humble about his approach to things,” Johnson said. “He’s obviously a smart guy, too.”
Voter turnout across South Carolina has been strong and steady, just as it is in Richland and Lexington counties, according to South Carolina Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire.
But Whitmire said it still is a bit too early to speculate whether voters will break the S.C. GOP primary record of 603,770 ballots cast in 2012.
One important sign is that as of early Saturday afternoon, 58,464 absentee ballots had already been cast in the GOP contest, Whitmire said. That alone shatters the previous state record of 35,595 absentee ballots, including both the Democratic and Republican primaries, in 2008.
The total number of absentee ballots returned so far is 77,288, more than double the previous record, Whitemire said.
“The absentee turnout is certainly indicative of high excitement and voter interest,” Whitmire said. “There’s been nothing today to indicate otherwise, as far as what we’ve heard from the polls. I wouldn’t be surprised if we set a record turnout for a Republican presidential primary.”
Few problems have accompanied the voter turnout, Whitmire said. One notable hiccup with polling machines in Florence County forced voters to cast paper ballots until the machines were back up and running.
But for the most part, it has been smooth sailing, Whitmire said.
“It’s eerily quiet here right now,” he said. “We’ve heard about some lines in some places, but nothing out of the ordinary.”
In Red Bank, Midlands Tech student and first-time voter Zach Zeagler said he cast his ballot for Donald Trump because of Trump’s success as a businessman and his ideas for immigration reform.
“I support the wall,” Zeagler said. “I support that he’s going to put a tax on big companies ... moving out of the United States. I like his business history. He starts his own businesses, and he’s successful when he does.”
First-time voter Megan Baker said she was as motivated to vote against Donald Trump as she was to vote for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
“First of all, most of all, I just didn’t want Donald Trump to win,” Baker, 19, said. “Otherwise, (Carson) is a really smart person.”
The British ambassador to the United States visited Columbia on Saturday to get a first-hand look at the South Carolina Republican presidental primary.
Sir Kim Darroch, a former national security adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron, started his new post in January.
Darroch is meeting with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Seneca Republican who ran for president, and South Carolina Republican party chairman Matt Moore.
He also will visit a couple of candidate campaign headquarters in Columbia as voters cast their ballots through 7 p.m.
No surprise, Darroch is interested in the success and future prospects of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump, a New York real estate developer who was never held political office.
Voting turnout is strong and steady in Greenville County, according to Conway Belangia, director of the county’s Voter Registration and Election office.
“If it continues like this, it’ll be good number,” Belangia said.
But he wouldn’t speculate as to whether turnout would break the record for GOP primary in South Carolina, as many expected. Belangia said he won’t have a better handle on those numbers until later today.
Belangia said some lines in Greenville County precincts include up to 55 people, but that those lines are moving quickly. Precincts had no troubles opening but have had a few technical issues, none of which have kept anyone from voting, he said.
Eileen Pikus, a 56-year-old homemaker from Lexington, voted today at Lexington Middle School.
Pikus said she voted for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, because, “I think he’s a strong, Christian man.”
Another Lexington Middle School voter, 43-year old Allison Mathias, said she picked Ben Carson because she believes he is a unifier.
“I think he is a peacemaker,” said Mathias, a stay-at-home mother, “and maybe he can bring our country together.”
Lynn Conley, a 69-year-old retiree who voted at the school, said he was drawn to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s immigration and economic policies.
“I think he’ll do a good job on the border and get the economy straightened out,” Conley said. “I think he may even be able to deal with Putin.”
John Bane and Celia Bane, both 63, voted together at Dreher High School this morning. Both said they picked Ted Cruz.
“Right up to the end I was divided between Cruz and Rubio,” John Bane said. “In the end I felt like Cruz was stronger and more experienced on a couple issues that are important to me – national defense and the 2nd Amendment.”
Charleston County Board of Elections Director Joe Debney said voting is “going really well” in Charleston this morning.
Charleston County precincts that typically vote for Republicans have had “a good, steady turnout,” Debney said, though he would not speculate as to whether the turnout could be record-breaking. Debney said he would have a better idea of the turnout later this afternoon.
“The reports that I’ve heard is that it’s steady, there are no lines, and people are getting in and out quickly,” Debney said.
The State Election Commission is reminding voters to bring one of five forms of photo identification: an S.C. drivers license, DMV ID, photo voter registration card, federal military ID or U.S. passport.
Voters who forget to bring their photo IDs to the polls still can vote with a provisional ballot, but their vote will not count unless they show their photo ID to the county elections office before certification of the election on Thursday, according to a news release from the commission.
Voters who don’t have a photo ID should bring their non-photo voter registration cards with them to the polls. That card would allow them to sign an affidavit explaining why they couldn’t get a photo ID. It would also allow them to vote on a provisional ballot.
That ballot would count unless the affidavit is proven false.
Voters had no problems this morning casting their ballots in Richland County, according to Yonita Simmons, the county Election Commission’s outreach coordinator.
Simmons said precincts this morning had a few hiccups, such as problems with laptops or other equipment. Those were mostly solved before voters arrived, she said.
“All of that is to be expected,” Simmons said. “We’ve had some issues with minor things this morning. It’s the norm for elections.”
A news release from Simmons said Richland County has more than 700 poll workers and 29 polling location technicians in addition to its Election Commission staff “to ensure that this election runs smoothly.”
Simmons said the commission doesn’t yet have a sense of voter turnout. The commission won’t have solid data on that until later Saturday afternoon, she said.
The six-candidate GOP race is expected to produce a record voter turnout statewide on Saturday. As of midday Thursday, about 38,000 absentee ballots had been cast in the GOP contest. That already had passed the 35,595 absentee ballots cast in 2008 — a record total that included both the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.
Just before 11 a.m., 169 people had voted at the precinct at Dreher High School, with 99 absentee ballots. Those votes account for 18.5 percent of the precinct.
Simmons said the commission has not received any reports of long lines, either from precincts across the county or the voters themselves.
One of those voters was Joe Underwood, 66, an attorney who lives on near Trenholm Road. Underwood said he voted this morning for Ohio Gov. John Kasich at Kilbourne Park Baptist Church.
“I voted to send him out of here into the other states with a high enough percentage to create a lane for sane, rational Republicans,” Underwood said. “I am historically a Democrat. I’ve only crossed over and voted in the Republican Party these two times. Each time it was to try to shape who the candidate would be so I would have a choice between two sane and sensible candidates.”
Another was 52-year-old Bill West, an accountant who lives on MacGregor Drive off Beltline Boulevard. West said he voted for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio because he is “the lesser of three evils.”
“I’m pretty sure Trump is a neo-fascist because that’s the next step past super conservative Republican,” West said. “I think Cruz would create his religious state. Kasich doesn’t have a prayer and I’m not sure unfortunately Bush does either.”
Gov. Nikki Haley is set to cast her vote at 11 a.m. at Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington. Haley on Wednesday endorsed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and has since made stops with him on the campaign trail.
“I want a president who understands they have to go back to Washington, D.C., and bring a conscience back to our Republicans,” Haley, a Lexington Republican, told a crowd of hundreds gathered outside a Chapin warehouse as she announced her endorsement.
Voting so far is going smoothly in Lexington County, save for a “couple of procedural errors” in opening the precincts, according to Dean Crepes, director of Lexington County Commission of Registration and Elections.
Crepes said the problems were minor and were quickly resolved. No voters have had trouble voting thus far, he said.
Crepes said precincts in Lexington County saw a “quick burst” of voters from 7 a.m., when polls opened, to about 7:20.
Now, a steady stream of voters are pouring into those precincts, Crepes said. He estimates turnout this morning is up to 20 percent higher than it was at this time in 2012.
“We’re hopping along real good,” Crepes said.
Crepes said he expects voter turnout could be up to 40 percent today.
GOP presidential hopefuls are gearing up for a busy day ahead as South Carolina residents head to the polls.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is spending the morning in the Upstate, meeting with voters at a voting precinct in Greenville. Bush will then move on to a Daniel Island voting precinct before holding an election night watch party at the Hilton Columbia Center on Senate Street in Columbia.
Ted Cruz of Texas will not be in South Carolina this morning. He instead will fly to Washington for the funeral of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Cruz is scheduled to be at a watch party tonight at the state fairgrounds in Columbia.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich plans to spend most of the day campaigning in Massachusetts. He will attend a watch party in Wakefield, Mass.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is holding a watch party at 6 p.m. at the Carolina Haven tailgating facility in Bluff Road in Columbia. Ben Carson is set to appear at at 7 p.m. party at an Embassy Suites in Greenville, and Donald Trump is scheduled to appear at an 8 p.m. watch party at a Marriott hotel in Spartanburg.
This morning’s weather isn’t likely to drive any voters from the polls, which open now. Forecasts for Columbia today show highs in the high 60s and lows in the low 50s. Clouds are expected, but rain isn’t.
Balloting begins in about two hours. Heavy turnout is expected. If you need last-minute help help finding your polling place or information on the candidates, see out our GOP primary voter guide. Also, we’ll be posting returns on this page later this evening, but don’t wait until then to check it out — we already have tons of state-by-state data and other information.
Staff writers Avery Wilks, Glen Flanagan and Andy Shain contributed to this report.