Absentee voting up in SC, setting early pace for record turnout

(Greenville News) If absentee voters continue voting at the pace they are now, South Carolina could see a record turnout in this presidential election, State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said.

The number of absentee voters involved in the process at this point in the election is "15 to 20 percent higher" than it was in 2012, Whitmire said. More than 193,000 absentee voting applications have been requested and 140,170 ballots have been issued. Of the ballots issued, more than 48,000 have been returned with fewer than three weeks remaining until the Nov. 8 election. In 2012, approximately 400,000 absentee ballots were cast.

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Most ballots have been issued by mail — 93,480, which is more than double the 41,577 ballots issued in-person. Greenville County voters have requested the third highest amount of applications — 16,025 — and received the third highest amount of absentee ballots — 11,279 — in the state, behind Richland and Charleston counties in both categories.

If this pattern continues, Whitmire said the commission anticipates a record turnout for the presidential election.

People can vote absentee via mail, requesting an application, returning an application, receiving a ballot and submitting a ballot all through the postal service. Those four steps can also be consolidated into one trip to County Square, the central in-person absentee voting location for Greenville County. Voters can preview their ballot through a tool on the S.C. State Election commission's website, scvotes.org.

South Carolina residents can vote absentee if they have a reasonable excuse or if they are aged 65 or older. The only difference between in-person absentee voting and the early voting available in other states is that for early voting, nobody needs to provide a reason why they wish to vote before election day.

"We don't have early voting in South Carolina, but we do have absentee for a reason," said Conway Belangia, who leads Greenville County's elections office. "In South Carolina, you have to have a reason to vote absentee: Either you’ll be out of county on election day, you’re in the military, you’re attending school out of the county, your employment takes you out of town — disability, age. You have to choose one of those reasons to fill out an absentee ballot."

Tanya Wilson cast her vote for Hillary Clinton at Greenville's County Square Wednesday afternoon. She cares for two disabled family members, so she wanted to cast her ballot early. This is the second time Wilson has utilized Greenville County's in-person absentee voting system; both times have been quick and run smoothly, she said.

South Carolina's in-person absentee voting is helpful for people like Wilson, who don't have specific plans but don't want to risk missing the opportunity to cast their vote, said Brent Nelson, a Furman University political science professor.

"Absentee voting gives voters a lot more flexibility for performing their civic duty ... In this state, we have made it easier because even though they can only vote absentee, they can give any excuse," Nelsen said. "It’s just a way of trying to encourage people who would normally find it difficult to find it to the polling station."

Both of South Carolina's major political parties have put efforts into getting their supporters to vote absentee. The S.C. Republican Party has mailed more than 250,000 forms to request an absentee ballot application to "known Republicans" in the Palmetto State, said Chairman Matt Moore. The party has also sent party supporters mail warning of long election day lines and drawing upon Republicans' dislike for Clinton and President Barack Obama.

"The Republican Party wants to make it as easy as possible for people to cast their ballots," Moore said.

The S.C. Democratic Party has not sent application request forms but plans on sending mailers encouraging those eligible to vote absentee, a party official said. Both parties have webpages dedicated to educating voters on the absentee voting process: The Republicans have scabsentee.com and the Democrats have a dedicated page on their party site, scdp.org/voteabsentee.


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