Hand-written ballots, 90-degree heat, long lines: Voter turnout in Richland County bigger than expected

Voter turnout in Richland County bigger than expected

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Many Richland County voters spent more than two hours in 90-degree heat and South Carolina humidity to vote in Tuesday’s statewide primary.

Because of COVID-19, there were fewer poll workers who volunteered for this primary and fewer facilities willing to risk hundreds of people in their buildings, according to election officials.

Poll managers, clerks, and volunteers are often retired and within the high-risk category for COVID-19.

Due to this lack of essential resources and personnel, some counties across the state combined polling locations.

About one-third of all combined polling locations were in Richland County. Of the 247 polling places moved statewide, 73 were in Richland County.

“We are much bigger than I ever expected on a primary day,” said Alice Leeper, a poll clerk at North Springs Park.

Leeper has been a poll clerk or manager in Richland County for nearly 15 years and says the coronavirus has complicated the process.

“They did not have enough people brave enough to work the polls for the voters. Most of our people are retired. They are over 60 already, like myself…some said I’m not going to vote in this one because of COVID-19,” Leeper explained.

North Springs Park was the location for four separate precincts and there were dedicated machines for each precinct. That meant there were only two to three machines per precinct.

However, poll works said people were never waiting to use a voting machine. Instead, the wait was mainly to get checked in and to verify people were in the correct location.

Only two poll workers were checking in the hundreds of people trying to vote.

Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the South Carolina State Election Commission, said the turnout was “brisk for a primary considering how many voted absentee.”

South Carolina experienced a record number of absentee ballots for this primary, according to the Election Commission.

The commission said as of the morning of election day, there were 83,607 submitted Democratic absentee ballots and 80,380 Republican absentee ballots submitted.

Leeper says voters were already lining up when her polling location opened, but their voting machines weren’t set up in time, so they gave some people hand-written ballots.

“We want them to vote, and hand-written are ballots are counted…and they gave us the hand-written to use just in case we need them,” she said.

While some voters were frustrated with the wait and tired from the heat, others said it’s worth it.

“It’s been uncomfortable, but it’s important,” Barbara Harmer, who waited more than an hour to vote Tuesday, said.

First-time primary voter Krashawn Guess has been protesting since the death of George Floyd and said, "It’s one thing to protest and make your voice be heard, but it’s another thing to put action behind it…those that fought before us had to do worse things than this.”

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