Lowcountry voters planning to go to the polls Tuesday can take heart: Election officials said they shouldn’t face record long waits in line, even if the turnout approaches the record set four years ago.
Political leaders on both sides expect a big turnout when polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., despite a likely chance of rain.
Presidential elections always lure the most voters to the polls, and the tight contest between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney will stoke interest here, even if South Carolina is not a swing state.
“We all hear national news,” Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon said. “Everybody has the duality of thinking to themselves, ‘It’s not close in South Carolina, but it is close nationally, and I’ve got to do my part.’ ”
This year, a few things should help lessen the waits at the polls compared to what many experienced four years ago.
First, election officials have new equipment that will make checking in voters easier. Charleston County has bought only seven new voting machines, but it has about 79 new laptop computers that can sign voters in more rapidly, Election and Voter Registration Executive Director Joseph Debney said.
Debney said that in the past, delays at polls have been caused by the time it takes to look up registered voters in the rolls — not by voters’ time spent in the voting booths. Also, most ballots are only half as long as they were in 2008, when many precincts had more contested races and five statewide referendum questions — as opposed to only one this year.
Finally, Charleston County voters will face a single line. Four years ago, some waited a long time, only to find out they were in the “A-H” line and needed to be in the “I-Z” line — or vice versa.
Still, there are some imbalances in the county’s precincts, with some having more than double the 1,500 guideline. Debney said the county’s equipment will be distributed with that in mind.
Debney said he hopes the county’s precincts will be redrawn next year. Meanwhile, those bent on minimizing their waits should try to arrive at the polls in midmorning or midafternoon, traditionally the slowest times.
While the lines often were long during absentee voting in recent weeks, they tended to move fast, as election officials geared up for the surge.
“Long lines are not inherently bad,” Debney said. “Long lines mean people are voting.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.