Keith Morrison, 22, came prepared with iPad for a more than two-hour wait to vote absentee Saturday.
“I thought I’d come and get it out of the way,” said the Rock Hill resident as he was leaving York County’s satellite election office in Rock Hill where cars overflowed from the lot to the curbs, the grass, and down the street.
Morrison, who has to work on Election Day, is among more than 19,500 people who, as of Saturday, had cast absentee ballots in York County, topping the 16,706 cast in 2008.
Traffic picked up this week with nearly 1,000 people streaming through York County elections offices in York and Rock Hill each day, said Wanda Hemphill, director of York County Registration and Elections.
More than 1,100 people cast ballots on Saturday.
Statewide totals are set to surpass 2008 totals as well, said Chris Whitmire, communications director for the S.C. State Election Commission.
About 342,000 absentee ballots were cast in South Carolina in 2008, more than double any previous election, Whitmire said.
This year, as of Friday around noon, nearly 348,000 absentee ballots had been issued across the state and 310,600 returned.
The numbers will continue to rise through Monday at 5 p.m. when walk-in absentee voting ends, and 7 p.m., the deadline for mail-in absentee ballots.
Only voters who meet at least one of 17 conditions are qualified to vote absentee. Being 65 years or older, having a disability, or having to work or travel on Election Day are some of the reasons someone could vote early.
Pamela Boseman-Austin, 30, of Rock Hill has to work in Charlotte on Tuesday so she’s glad she can vote absentee.
“It’s a good advantage, especially for people like me. I’m excited to come out to vote on Saturday,” she said, adding that she was shocked to see such a crowd.
Boseman-Austin thought she’d get there 30 minutes early and was surprised at the wait, but she said it gave her some time to read the voting materials and learn about the ballot question on Sunday alcohol sales.
Melika Mason, 31, has to be in New York City on Tuesday for work, so she qualifies to vote absentee. She said she also supports early voting.
Push for early voting
It’s easy to qualify to vote absentee in South Carolina, so a lot of people can do it if they want to, said Rick Whisonant, who teaches political science at York Technical College.
But the spike in absentee voting in York County and statewide also stems from a growing emphasis on early voting around the nation, including in North Carolina, a battleground state where both political parties are pushing to get out the vote, he said.
Hemphill says York County residents living in the Charlotte media market have heard about early voting across the border and “they translate that early voting to be in effect also in South Carolina. We advise everyone that what we have is absentee, not early voting,” she said.
In 2008 Democrats encouraged early voting as part of their strategy, and this year both parties are pushing voters to cast their ballots early, hoping to pick up some of those votes, Whisonant said.
In states that allow early voting and require voters to register by party, political prognosticators can glean insight into which party’s candidates are winning the early votes. South Carolina does not require voters to register by party.
The popularity in absentee voting could continue to grow, Whisonant said, meaning it might be “a good time for the legislators to begin a serious discussion” about early voting.
Bills have been introduced to the state Legislature, and Whitmire said he anticipates more in 2013.
The bills will likely have the endorsement of state election officials, who concluded that early voting is what voters want after the 2008 spike in absentee voting in the state. Commissioners advocate opening up voting for a period of about two weeks before Election Day.
Early voting would be good for the state, Whitmire said, “because it provides voters with more opportunity to vote, an easier way to vote, more options, and makes voting more accessible to all South Carolinians.”
Jamie Self 803-329-4062