Across Horry County, South Carolina and the United States, voters turned out in significantly greater numbers in last week’s midterm election than four years ago. About 50 percent of Horry County’s registered voters exercised that fundamental right and duty on Nov. 6 compared to only 39 percent in 2014.
While a 50 percent turnout is hardly something to crow about, it’s a lot better than 39 percent. Other encouraging points about this year’s election included a big increase in voter registration and high absentee voting. Polling places were busy, with long lines, meaning that voters in several precincts waited for an hour or more. U.S. Rep. Tom Rice said one voting place he visited had a two-hour wait.
Voting is a special thing, no doubt about it, but having to wait in line for an hour or more is bound to deter folks from voting. Some voters avoid long waits by going to vote around 10 a.m., or 3 p.m., avoiding early, midday and late voting. However, all voters do not have daily schedules which allow that flexibility.
There were expected malfunctions with individual voting machines, but apparently no major county-wide issues. The long wait to vote was a problem across South Carolina and the United States, with many reports of people having to wait hours to vote. We’re pleased they did, but it certainly should be easier than it was for many voters.
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Horry County’s rapid population growth is a factor in some of the long lines. Sandy Martin, of the Horry County Board of Elections, knows of precincts with high numbers of registered voters, enough to split the precinct, but no suitable location in a new precinct for a polling place.
In South Carolina, the voting process — registration, regulations, equipment to count votes — is handled by an independent, nonpartisan State Election Commission. That description is from Lynn Teague, a vice president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. The LWVSC works with a recognized computer engineer, Duncan Buell of the University of South Carolina.
“It’s clear that our existing machines need to be replaced,” Teague said, and the replacements need to be of a sort that gives a paper record. National LWV policy is that voters must be able to see, on paper, their votes. Teague said hand-marked ballots of some kind are better and much less costly than electronic (touchscreen) machines. The State Election Commission plans to request proposals for new machines, although the General Assembly (legislature) has not appropriated money for a new system.
Early voting is a way of helping reduce long lines. State Sen. Greg Hembree of Little River has co-sponsored past legislation setting up early voting, and he would again support “some form of early voting.” One possibility is in-person polling places in a few locations, where registered voters could vote in advance of an election. Early voting differs from absentee voting, which is limited to 15 types of qualified voters, including armed forces members serving outside the county, persons whose work schedule will not allow voting on election day, physically disabled persons, and those age 65 or older.
Area legislators and Horry County Council members, should embrace the idea that all qualified residents should be encouraged to register to vote and to participate by using their voting voices, and to making Election Day run as efficiently as possible.