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Tri-county election officials receive thousands of absentee ballots amid pandemic

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Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties are seeing a rise in absentee voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic. File/Staff

The June 9 primary elections mark the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Palmetto State that South Carolina residents will cast ballots — and absentee voting is at an all-time high in the Charleston area, officials said. 

On May 12, S.C. lawmakers approved a short-term bill allowing voters to request a mail-in absentee ballot without question. On Monday, a federal judge ruled the state couldn't keep voters from participating in the primary by mail by citing fear of the virus. And with medical and state officials still advising social distancing and recommending limited capacity in buildings, many counties have seen the expected uptick in the number of absentee ballot requests.  

In Charleston's upcoming primary elections, the Democratic Party is expected to field 11 primary races and the Republican Party six.

Isaac Cramer, project officer for the Charleston County Board of Elections and Registration, said more than 28,000 people have already requested absentee ballots. As of Thursday, 5,538 ballots have been returned. 

The board expects about 24,000 to vote absentee in the upcoming election. Residents can find updated election information via the county's website.   

Adam Hammons, registration and election director for Berkeley County, said it's hard to say how many people in Berkeley will vote absentee. He expects the number would be over 6,000. 

"I know our numbers will be much higher than past primaries," he said.

Of the nearly 9,000 absentee applications, 4,698 absentee ballots have been mailed. In 2018, a little over 800 absentee ballots were recorded. 

"So a huge jump," he said. 

One of the elections to watch in Berkeley is for the Senate District 44 seat. Debbie Bryant, a Moncks Corner resident and associate dean at the College of Nursing at Medical University of South Carolina, is challenging Kristopher DeLorme, a Hanahan resident and Marine, for the Democratic nomination.

Brian Adams, a North Charleston police officer, and Gayla McSwain, a Goose Creek councilwoman, are vying for the Republican nomination. 

In a Dorchester County GOP race, Mike Turner, chief of public safety for The Citadel, is challenging L.C. Knight for the second time for sheriff. Knight has held the position since 2009 and beat Turner in 2012. 

Dorchester County spokeswoman Tiffany Norton said 1,128 ballots have been returned out of the nearly 3,000 mailed to voters. This is three times the number of absentee ballots the county normally receives in a primary, she said. 

If the numbers continue to climb, they expect to see around 3,000 ballots. 

Todd Billman, executive director of the Dorchester County Election Commission, said in a video posted to the county's website that his concern is with the safety of voters and his staff. 

"We're trying to put every precaution in place to keep people safe," he said. 

For residents who haven't requested absentee applications, the county encourages them to take advantage of satellite absentee locations. Voters can vote as an in-person absentee at the Dorchester County Clemson Extension Office on Johnston Street in St. George until June 8. 

The Rollins Edwards Community Center on North Hickory Street in Summerville and the Wescott Park Community Center on Dorchester Road in the North Charleston area also are options until June 5. 

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Reach Jerrel Floyd at 843-937-5558. Follow him on Twitter @jfloyd134.

Jerrel Floyd is an Alabama raised reporter who covers Summerville and Dorchester County for The Post and Courier.

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