Voter headache

A glitch with the state database used to check in absentee voters brought the entire system down temporarily Tuesday, causing lines at the polling station in North Charleston to grow during the morning.

Record waves of absentee voters are taxing South Carolina’s election system this fall, causing a host of hiccups as Election Day nears.

Lowcountry election officials said they have the situation in hand and are solving the problems as they arise.

The most recent glitch occurred Tuesday morning, when the state’s database of voters ceased issuing new application numbers.

In Charleston County, the wait to cast an absentee ballot — which had been about 10 minutes — stretched up to an hour as officials scrambled to fix the problem.

Janet Segal was among those waiting in line at the time. She estimated that about 100 people walked away without voting. “People left, and that’s the sad part,” she said, adding that it took her about an hour to vote.

Joe Debney, director of the county Election and Board of Voter Registration, said he tried to get the word out as quickly as possible to those in line and in the local media about the problem, which the State Election Commission was able to fix within an hour.

The issue originated in Charleston around 10:30 a.m., said Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire. When the state tried to correct Charleston County’s system, it affected other databases used statewide and made the entire system unavailable from about 10:45 a.m. until 11:15 a.m.

In Dorchester County, the wait to vote absentee grew from about 10 minutes to 15 minutes, said Dorchester elections director Joshua Dickard.

“It put us on hold while we figured it out,” he said.

Dorchester, like Charleston and other counties, used paper applications to process voters until the computer system was back up.

“Since it was fixed, it’s been working like clockwork all day,” Dickard said.

Charleston County’s database came back online at about 11:45 a.m., Whitmire said, adding the problem will not reappear. Debney said the problem did not compromise the voting because voting machines weren’t affected — only the tracking system used to check in voters.

Donna Seabolt of Johns Island experienced a different problem voting absentee. Both she and her son, who lives in West Ashley, requested that absentee ballots be mailed to them earlier this month, but neither has received a ballot so far. Seabolt said she gave up waiting and instead cast an absentee vote in person at the precinct at Leeds and Azalea avenues.

“I think it’s a problem, and somebody ought to answer why,” she said.

Debney said he is not sure if there was a problem with the mail.

“If this does happen to folks, we are either sending them a new ballot or instructing them to come in to vote,” he said.

Election officials stressed that the most common problems — for those voting absentee or on Election Day — are those who have moved and failed to update their voter-registration information. Voters are strongly urged to double-check that before Election Day at www.scvotes.org.

Moving can put voters into different legislative districts, meaning they are eligible for different ballots. If the move is from one county to another and residents had not updated their voter registration by Oct. 6, they’re out of luck.

“Those are always hard conversations to have — to tell somebody they cannot vote,” Whitmire said. “That’s not in our DNA.”

Those who moved within the same county are still eligible to vote but will be directed to their county election office to vote a limited, fail-safe ballot.

South Carolina does not have early voting per se, but state law allows voters to cast their absentee ballots early if they are older than 65; are working on Election Day and will be unable to vote; plan to be out of town or in the hospital on Election Day; and several other reasons.

A growing number are doing just that, either because they’ve learned of the option from a campaign or political party — or from the media.

In 2008, South Carolina voters set a record when 342,000 of them voted absentee, making up 18 percent of all votes cast. This year, the number of absentee applications already had hit 322,308 as of late Tuesday, with 244,522 absentee votes already cast.

“We’re on track to break the ’08 record,” Whitmire said.

In Dorchester County, almost 4,000 had cast absentee ballots in person as of Tuesday — far surpassing the 2,500 who voted that way in 2008, the previous record, Dickard said.

The county opened an extra absentee precinct in Summerville to handle the expected flood, so waits remain minimal, he added.

For those voting absentee, three deadlines are looming: Those requesting an absentee ballot be sent to them must have their application in no later than 5 p.m. Friday, preferably earlier, Whitmire said.

The deadline for in-person absentee voting is 5 p.m. Monday, and all absentee ballots must be returned no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 6.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771. Diette Courrégé Casey contributed this report.