COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Tuesday was a day election officials had been anxiously preparing for over recent months, and now are calling a huge success.
The South Carolina Election Commission reported record-high absentee turnout prior to election day. But the big question that hung in the air was what turnout would look like on Election Day and if it would all run smoothly.
Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the Election Commission, said election officials faced more challenges this election cycle than ever before with a pandemic, new voting equipment, and record numbers of absentee voters.
Even with those challenges, he says for the most part, Election Day was smooth sailing.
“Overall it was a successful Election Day, certainly aided by, one-- the hard work of all the county election officials and poll managers out there, but also aided by the fact that there were just fewer voters at the polls yesterday because so many voters voted before the election,” Whitmire said.
When it comes to voter turnout, Whitmire said South Carolina did not end up having a record-breaking year. He said of Wednesday morning, the state was at about 66% turnout.
While numbers might rise to about 70%, it won’t come close to the 2008 record of 76% voter turnout.
“Slightly less than record, with more of an average overall turnout,” Whitmire said. “The records were really set in absentee.”
He said 38% of South Carolinians voted absentee, whether in-person or by mail, and a test for election offices Tuesday was getting all those votes counted.
“We expected some counties to be finished on election night,” Whitmire said. “And they were. And some of those larger counties are finishing up this morning.”
Some voters reported issues voting, but Whitmire said that’s not out of the ordinary.
“That is one of the biggest issues we face, are basic voter registration issues.” Whitmire said. “(Many voters say) ‘I believe I registered, I believe I did this,’ but either the voter didn’t do what they were supposed to do, or didn’t complete the process, or maybe they did do what they were supposed to and we try to verify that.”
One issue that multiple voters reported to WIS was voters saying they went to vote and they were told an absentee ballot had already been cast in their name.
“My vote matters and a vote has been cast in my name that I did not cast and that matters to me,” Tammy Adams, a Lexington County voter, said.
Whitmire said this problem is rare, but with the surge in absentee votes this year it might have happened more than normal.
“Usually that occurs because a voter goes to vote, and (the poll worker) looks up -- John Smith for example -- and they identify the wrong John Smith in the system,” Whitmire said. “It’s really a different one, and then the real John Smith shows up to vote on Election Day and is told they’ve already voted absentee.”
He said poll workers are supposed to check the address of the individual to make sure they select the right voter.
Whitmire said a voter experiencing this issue could still vote by a provisional ballot and that both ballots would be counted -- the voter with the same name who voted absentee and the voter who voted in person on Election Day -- since they are both legitimate votes.
He said one of his biggest concerns this election cycle was how many voters would mail back their absentee ballots.
“How are we going to do with that?” Whitmire said. “Because a low return rate is going to have a higher impact, and what we found -- the return rate was much higher than in 2016.”
The Election Commission got back 94% of the mail-in ballots they issued this year, a record from 2016 when they got back 91% of those ballots.
Whitmire says counting mail-in ballots went smoothly as well, due to the extra time they were given to open the outer envelope of the ballots prior to Election Day.
He said he expects every district to be done counting absentee ballots by Wednesday night -- with the exception of Dorchester County.
Dorchester County ran into an issue with their printed absentee ballots, Whitmire said, and approximately 14,000 ballots needed to be duplicated to be scanned correctly and counted.