South Carolina’s turnout in today’s election could break the record set in 2008, when 76 percent of its electorate voted.
The state’s polls were set to close at 7 p.m., but those who got in line by that time were going to be able to vote.
State voters already have shattered the record for absentee voting. About 400,000 such ballots were cast this year, far more than the 342,000 cast in 2008, according to the State Election Commission.
That enthusiasm seemed to carry over.
“The passion and dedication of South Carolina citizen for the electoral process was on display at the polls today,” Commission director Marci Andino said. “We’re grateful to voters for their patience as they waited to cast their ballots.”
The heavy voter turnout caused long lines at many polling places earlier today, but wait times shortened through mid-afternoon at some places around the Lowcountry.
Voters reported waits of two hours at some polling stations but others were in and out in less than 15 minutes.
John Mack of North Charleston said he waited more than an hour at Burns Elementary School on Dorchester Road just to check in with poll workers because they had just one computer on hand to verify voters. Some 200 people were standing out in the cold and rain, he said.
“You’ve got a lot of frustration going on there,” he said.
“I can’t believe that it’s almost 2013 and with all of the technology we have, we are still voting like this,” voter Dex Badgett tweeted.
Election officials urged folks to be patient, as turnout is always higher during a presidential race, particularly one as close as this.
By lunchtime today, two Lowcountry political leaders said they were pleased with the bustle of Election Day, and they had heard of only a few minor glitches.
“Everything is going very wonderful,” Charleston County GOP Chair Lin Bennett said.
She said one minor issue was a Democratic Statehouse candidate campaigning too close to a James Island polling place, but “it got straightened out.”
County Democratic Chair Richard Hricik also reported few problems in today’s voting so far.
Hricik said his only issue was voters in St. Andrews 3 and 9, two predominantly Democratic precincts that vote at the W.L. Stephens Aquatic Center, had to stand out in the rain because the building is so small.
“It’s crazy to have people standing outside in the rain,” he said.
Some people don’t seem to mind the wait. They see it as a badge of honor of sorts in their quest to do their civic duty.
“Long line at EB Ellington to vote. Good to see the turnout!” voter Sean Muzzy tweeted.
Today’s forecast calls for rain and chilly normal temperatures, but that might not be enough to keep turnout from passing record levels set in 2008.
One voter said he got to Devon Forest Elementary in Goose Creek at 6:45 a.m. and was still waiting to cast his ballot at 8:15 a.m. Another reported that the lines at Ladson Elementary School were “ridiculously long.”
Bill Baker liked the way lines were arranged at Beech Hill Elementary in Summerville.
“I came here expecting to wait three hours and only waited one,” Baker said. “It was wonderful.”
Poll worker Blondell Harley said people already were lined up at the National Guard Armory in Mount Pleasant when she arrived at 6 a.m., with some voters showing up in their pajamas.
“I’ve seen a lot of young kids,” she said.
Just like at an amusement park, as voters entered the building they found the line wrapped around the inside of the building. The line moved quickly though and by 7:45 a.m. it had shortened considerably.
Brenda Simmons moved to Mount Pleasant a few years ago from New York, an area hit by Hurricane Sandy just a week before the election. “It’s going to be murder,” Simmons said when thinking about what voting would be like in the storm-ravaged state.
She’s grateful to be voting here now, she said, and wouldn’t complain about the cold drizzle she stood in this morning.
Instead, Simmons did what she’s been doing since she was 18. She’s hoping her vote will give President Barack Obama another four years.
“I think his work is unfinished,” she said. “I don’t believe he was given the chance to do what he hoped to do.”
At Sunrise Presbyterian Church on Middle Street in Sullivan’s Island, poll workers saw a steady stream of voters since 7 a.m., according to poll clerk Michael Blalock. The turnout in the morning was at least as strong as years past, he said.
Ken Lietch, of Sullivan’s Island, said the weather didn’t deter him from coming out.
“The only thing the weather did was keep me from riding my bike here,” Lietch said. He wouldn’t say who he voted for but it was worth the hour wait to do it.
The lines were thin at Alhambra Hall in Mount Pleasant, where the wait time in the mid-morning was about 30 minutes. Poll workers credited it to a large number of absentee voters. Edmund Frampton, 75, of Mount Pleasant waited about 45 minutes to cast his ballot for Mitt Romney, who he said he’s supported from the start. Frampton worries about the next four years if Obama remains in office, he said.
“How much further are we going to go in debt?” he said.
By 10 a.m. almost 200 people had cast their vote on Calhoun Street in downtown Charleston, many of them College of Charleston students.
“Another college student not in the system,” one poll worker told the clerk. It’s nothing new for poll clerk Ivy Wright-Coleman, who said it was the same scenarios four years ago. Because so many college students vote in her precinct, much of her morning was spent on the phone with Charleston County election headquarters.
“Many of them registered at the college but didn’t change their addresses,” she said.
That isn’t the only headache she dealt with this morning. A man was handing out ACLU flyers to voters in line, even handed her one, she said.
Wright-Coleman said she was calling the police to have him escorted out after she said he refused to leave, but a poll watcher talked him into leaving.
It was a bumpy start for Burke High School’s precinct with the computers not working at 7 a.m.
“A lot of angry people,” said Debrank Ravenel, a poll manager.
A trouble-shooting tech got the computers working by 7:30 a.m. but the line remained long.
Mike Jackson, 57, of Charleston was not happy as he left Burke after waiting three hours to vote.
“The inefficiency of polling places are ridiculous,” he said. “I’m planning to contact somebody.”
By mid-day the line still snaked through the schools hallways.
When voters exited the side doors they were greeted by young students wearing their uniforms, holding clipboards. About 65 third- through eighth-graders from the University School of the Lowcountry took exit polls around Charleston County. The groups will bring back their results in hopes of learning about the value of exit polls and turnout differences, according to Paige Koches, a lead teacher with the school.
The students will tabulate their results and compare them to the nation’s actual results Wednesday.
Moultrie Middle School’s line moved steadily throughout the morning with 14 machines available for voters from four precincts..
That could largely be because of poll clerk Edward Mikell. A 1969 graduate of The Citadel, he spoke of the tight ship he runs.
Aside from the presidential race, Lowcountry voters also were picking between Republican Paul Thurmond and Democrat Paul Tinkler in the Senate District 41.
Also, U.S. Rep. Tim Scott is seeking a second term against Democratic challenger Bobbie Rose in the newly drawn First Congressional District, which now stretches from Charleston to Beaufort instead of from Charleston to Myrtle Beach.
And all South Carolina voters had a chance to weigh in on whether the governor and lieutenant governor should run on the same ticket beginning in 2018, while Berkeley and Dorchester District 2 voters will decide on school bond referendums.
Check back with www.postandcourier.com for regular updates throughout Election Day.
Andy Paras/postandcourier.com Lines, like this one at Sangaree Elementary, have been long at many polling places through the morning hours.×
Christina Elmore/postandcourier.com The line inside of Beech Hill Elementary about 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6.×
Signs such as this one were up around the Lowcountry today as polling places opened at 7 a.m. FILE×