Early voting at record-breaking pace
by Samantha Lyles
Darlington County citizens began casting their ballots in person as early voting commenced on Monday, Oct. 5, and if the heavy first week traffic is any indication, we could see a record breaking year for absentee ballots.
“We’ve been busy,” said Hoyt Campbell, director of Darlington County Elections and Registrations. Speaking with the News & Press during a brief respite on Friday, Campbell said activity started strong and remained high all week. “We have already voted close to 400 today, and between the two sites we did over 470 on Monday.”
A statewide voting computer outage on Monday (due to a software glitch) didn’t slow things down for long. By the time polls closed on Thursday, 1,800 ballots were cast, with 1,248 from the Darlington site and 552 from the Hartsville site. Tack an estimated 500 more from Friday and that’s 2,300 in-person ballots cast already. And those numbers are even more impressive when compared to elections past.
“We voted 6,000 four years ago, and that was the most we had ever voted in the office. We also had about 1,500 vote by mail, but that 6,000 was all people who voted in person in our offices,” Campbell said. “And here we are with over a third of that total from four years ago, completed in a week.”
Normally, absentee voting starts slow and ramps up as Election Day nears, said Campbell, noting that there are several factors which could account for the quick start – the primary one being COVID-19.
South Carolina recently expanded the list of acceptable reasons for voting absentee to include pandemic-related concerns over large crowds and long lines. Now, voters can cite COVID as their reason for requesting an early ballot, and Campbell said many voters are doing just that.
“Some are going to be on vacation, some will be working, some are over 65. A lot of them are saying (it’s about) COVID, but we still have to ask what their reason is,” Campbell said.
Regardless of one’s stated reason, a valid photo ID must be presented before a ballot can be printed and issued. For complete rules regarding South Carolina’s absentee voting procedures, visit www.scvotes.gov/absentee-voting<http://www.scvotes.gov/absentee-voting>.
Those who choose to vote early will be asked to take safety precautions to protect themselves and others, including using hand sanitizer (available before and after you vote), wearing a face covering (encouraged but not mandatory), signing in with a sanitized pen (available at the ID Check), and using a disposable cotton swab to operate the touch screen voting terminal.
Poll workers will be wearing personal protective equipment and some will work behind clear sneeze guard barriers to provide an extra level of safety.
If you wish to vote absentee via an in-person ballot, you must do so between now and 5 p.m., Nov. 2. For those who have scheduling conflicts during the week, a special Saturday voting session is planned for Halloween (Oct. 31) from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
“We might wind up doing that some other Saturdays as well, but that’s the one day we have scheduled so far,” Campbell said.
Absentee ballot polling locations are open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Darlington County Voter Registration Annex, 135 Cashua Street in Darlington, and at Jerusalem Baptist Church, 301 S. Sixth Street in Hartsville.