Absentee voting begins

A steady stream of Charleston County residents trickled into the Old SCE&G Building at 3691 Leeds Avenue to cast absentee ballots on Monday, Oct. 8, 2012. (Tyrone Walker/postandcourier.com)

In-person absentee voting opened Monday, but tri-county election officials saw few signs of the voter crush that washed over them four years ago.

That could change as Nov. 6 approaches, and if it does, the counties say they are prepared for it.

The upshot? No one might have to spend two or three hours waiting in line to cast an absentee ballot this year.

Charleston moved its absentee voting location about a block away, to the S.C. Electric & Gas Co. building at 3691 Leeds Ave., which has better automobile access and parking.

Dorchester began in-person absentee voting Monday in St. George, and it plans to open a second office at 500 Main St. in Summerville beginning Oct. 22.

Berkeley has no plans to open a second location, but it’s hopeful that a much shorter ballot and an easier procedure for signing in voters will keep waits to a minimum — even if thousands show up to vote absentee, Berkeley Election and Voter Registration director Wanda Farley said.

“I don’t think it will be as bad this year,” she said, “but we still probably will have long lines.”

South Carolina does not have early voting, but voters may cast an absentee ballot early for any one of 17 reasons, such as having to work Nov. 6, travel plans or scheduled medical procedures.

In 2008, a record number of voters attempted to beat the Election Day rush but found that lines often were longer at absentee locations than at the polls. In Charleston County alone, about 18,000 of some 36,000 absentee ballots were cast in person.

That got county officials thinking of how to avoid a repeat of 2008 delays, said Charleston County Election and Voter Registration Director Joe Debney.

The county already saw almost 300 absentee voters by lunchtime Monday, while Berkeley and Dorchester officials reported just a few dozen — or fewer.

Debney, Farley and Dorchester elections director Joshua Dickard all expect absentee voting to rise steadily during the next four weeks.

“That’s one reason we started opening Summerville (for absentee voting),” Dickard said. “I won’t say it won’t be another rush, but it will be manageable.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.