York County precincts brace for record voter turnout

More votes are expected to be cast today than ever before in York County, a testament not only to the rapid growth but also the intense interest in a presidential race nearly two years in the making.

When polls close tonight, as many as 80 percent of the county's 121,000 registered voters will have cast ballots, elections officials predict. Turnout in the 2004 election was 71 percent.

Long lines are expected in the more heavily populated areas of Rock Hill and Fort Mill, especially during peak times in the early morning, lunchtime and evening hours.

To handle the crowds, county officials will rely on an army of about 800 poll workers, easily more than any previous election. In 2004, the county used 500 workers.

The good news is that more people than ever voted before Election Day. Roughly 15,350 voters in York County have already sent in absentee ballots, officials reported. At some polling stations, that equates to 22 percent of assigned voters.

"That's going to take some of the pressure off the precincts," said Wanda Hemphill, the county's director of registration and elections.

Ten new precincts opened this year, including six in Fort Mill, bringing the total number of precincts to 73.

Parties to keep watch

York County Republicans and Democrats plan to deploy their own poll watchers to look for potential disruptions. Candidate signs and materials are outlawed within 200 feet of precinct doors.

The Republican side will rely on 60 to 70 volunteers. Democrats declined to specify the size of their group.

"We're there to make sure voters' rights are upheld, to make sure voters aren't turned away for slight infractions," said Timothy Robinson, a Barack Obama staffer now helping the local Democrats.

"If any machines break down, we're going to make sure they go to paper ballots right away," said GOP field coordinator Joe St. John. "And we've got to make sure there's no voter intimidation on either side."

Straight-ticket voting

Some confusion has emerged over straight-ticket voting. Officials emphasize that straight-ticket ballots in South Carolina include the presidential race.

That's different than in North Carolina, where voters must cast separate votes for president, even if they prefer straight party in other races.

Today's vote culminates an epic presidential contest in which York County played a starring role.

Rivals Barack Obama and John McCain each appeared twice in Rock Hill, highlighting a campaign season that included visits from nearly a dozen hopefuls.

For candidates and voters, the grueling process comes down to three minutes. That's how long voters are allowed to spend in the voting booth, according to South Carolina law.

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