COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - State election officials say absentee voting records will be shattered this election.
They believe 1 million registered voters will cast ballots before November 3. The previous record was around 500,000.
As of Wednesday, 190,000 in-person absentee ballots have been cast across South Carolina. The State Election Commission says it has issued more than 400,000 absentee ballots by mail. In Richland County, more than 20,000 voters have voted in-person so far. Richland County Director of Voter Registration and Elections Alexandria Stephens says they’ve added new equipment to meet demand, and they brought in twelve new poll workers Wednesday.
Richland County has seen its largest in-person absentee voting turnout at the Voter Registration Office, followed by North Springs Park and Parklane Adult Activity Center. Stephens says she has been sending voters to Masonic Temple to avoid lines. You can vote at any of the county’s six satellite locations, and she wants to stress if lines are long at one location, try another.
State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire has been working election for 16 years and says this is the busiest he’s ever been.
“It’s like every day is Election Day because so many people are voting in-person absentee,” said Whitmire. “Before you have 12 hours, and it’s an intense 12 hours that you kind of have the same voter issues and county election official issues that are concentrated in one day, and then it’s all over. Now, it’s spread out over a month.”
Whitmire says the State Election Commission is averaging 23,000 absentee ballots a day.
“We set the record for total absentee ballots issued,” he explained. “The record for by mail has been set. Of course, we still have a number of days and weeks to go for in-person absentee voting, and at this rate, that record is going to be set this year as well.”
But why are so many choosing to wait hours now instead of on Election Day? Former CNN White House correspondent and University of South Carolina dean Charles Bierbauer says high interest is one reason. He also believes no-excuse absentee voting has opened the door to more people, and there’s heightened stress and mistrust around voting.
“There is a level of concern that people can be fearful that whether they vote by mail-in ballot or try to vote on Election Day that somehow their ballot could be lost,” said Bierbauer. “Part of that is being reflected in the number of people coming out early who are willing to stand in line for hours and hours to make sure their ballot is counted.”
While things are busy now, election officials hope this high absentee turnout will help election day will run smoothly.
“The more people who vote absentee, the fewer problems you will have on Election Day because it’s fewer people at the polls,” explained Whitmire. “It’s going to help lines.”
Based on current absentee voting trends, the State Election Commission believes 40% of the total number of votes could be cast before Election Day.