Nearly 30 Horry County voting precincts will be moved for the June primaries as election officials face a shortage of polling sites and poll workers.
Wary of COVID-19, some property owners who traditionally allowed their facilities to serve as polling places would not commit to opening for the primaries. Other precincts are being combined because there are fewer poll workers. Many poll workers are over 65 and are refusing to work out of concern for their health.
“The majority of the precincts that we combined … we had absolutely nobody that had signed up to work there,” said Sandy Martin, the director of Horry County Voter Registration and Elections. “It’s pretty bad.”
Martin sent the proposed changes to the county’s legislative delegation earlier this week and she said the updated list was approved Thursday with one minor change (The Hickory Grove precinct is moving to Kingston Elementary School, not Bethlehem Baptist Church). County officials plan to begin distributing absentee ballots Friday.
Nine polling places are being moved because the sites are unavailable while 20 are being shifted because of poll worker shortages, according to a letter Martin sent to the delegation. The strain is being felt from Aynor to Socastee.
“Even small country precincts,” Martin said. “We’ve got some of those, too.”
On Monday, the S.C. State Election Commission announced the primaries would be held as scheduled. Although some state officials had discussed postponing them — elections in March, April and May have already been delayed — the June 9 date isn’t moving.
Citing concerns about the new coronavirus, commission leaders had asked state officials to make emergency changes to the election process. The commission does not have the authority to postpone a primary.
“There is no single or easy solution to protecting more than three million voters and election workers during or following a pandemic,” wrote Marci Andino, the commission’s executive director, in a letter to lawmakers.
Specifically, Andino asked that the state allow early voting, “no excuse” absentee voting — meaning voters would not have to fall into one of 18 categories to qualify for voting absentee — and voting by mail.
However, voting options remain unchanged.
Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the commission, said those who qualify to vote absentee (age 65 or older, disabled, caring for a sick or disabled person, etc.) are urged to vote as soon as possible. They can apply by mail now and in-person absentee voting at county election offices begins next week.
Whitmire said election officials will try to keep voters and poll workers safe. The commission aims to provide masks, face shields and gloves for poll managers. Hand sanitizer and sneezer guards could also be available.
“Poll managers will receive special Covid-19 training on applying social distancing and maintaining sanitary conditions in the polling place,” Whitmire said.
Jack Gregory, a longtime poll worker at the Jetport 2 precinct in Myrtle Beach, said workers from each site will be participating in a training session at the Horry County Museum auditorium in a few weeks.
“There’s enough space in there to have us sit in a social distance away from each other,” he said.
Although Horry County officials are moving precincts in response to the staffing and space challenges, Martin stressed they are not alone. Counties across the state face the same struggle.
“It’s not just us,” she said. “It’s everywhere.”
These are the approved changes for the June primaries:
• Aynor (Aynor Town Hall) to Dog Bluff (Aynor Elementary School)
• Forestbrook (Socastee Library) to Socastee #4 (Beach Church/Myrtle Beach Community Church)
• Galivants Ferry (Pee Dee Farms Store) to Dog Bluff (Aynor Elementary School)
• Garden City #4 (Magnolia Grove Clubhouse) to Garden City #3 (Seaside Elementary School)
• Hickory Grove (Kingston Baptist Church) to Kingston Elementary School
• Horry (Salem Baptist Church) to Cool Springs (Cool Springs Methodist Church)
• Joyner Swamp (Berea Baptist Church) to Methodist-Mill Swamp (Midland Elementary School)
• Marlowe #2 (Timberlake Baptist Church) to Glenns Bay (South Strand Recreation Center)
• Poplar Hill (Pleasant Union Baptist Church) to Cool Springs (Cool Springs Methodist Church)
• Brownway (Pee Dee Elementary) to Jordanville (Highpoint Baptist Church)
• Cherry Grove #2 (Little River Neck Road Fire Station) to Cherry Grove #1 (Chapel by the Sea Baptist Church)
• Coastal Lane #2 (Mary C. Canty Recreation Center) to Coastal Lane #1 (21st Avenue County Complex)
• Dunes #2 (Lake Arrowhead Fire Station) to Dunes #3 (Risen Christ Lutheran Church)
• Garden City #2 (Garden City Fire Station) to Garden City #1 (Garden City Baptist Church)
• Hickory Hill (Pleasant Meadow Baptist Church) to Live Oak (Live Oak Baptist Church)
• Inland (Bucksport Library/EMS) to Port Harrelson (Bucksport Community Center)
• Little River #3 (Little River Fire Station #2) to Little River #2 (St. Paul AME Church)
• Ocean Drive #1 (Fire Station) to Crescent (North Myrtle Beach Community Center)
• Ocean Forest #1 (Fire Station) to Myrtlewood #3 (Myrtle Beach Church of Christ)
• Ocean Forest #2 (Claire Chapin Epps Family YMCA) to Myrtlewood #3 (Myrtle Beach Church of Christ)
• Palmetto Bays (Palmetto Bays Elementary School) to Emerald Forest #1 (Grand Strand Baptist Church)
• Red Hill #1 (Waccamaw Elementary School) to Coastal Carolina (Seacoast Church Conway)
• Red Hill #2 (Centenary United Methodist Church) to Jackson Bluff (Sweetwater Branch Church)
• Salem (Salem Methodist Church) to Wild Wing (Christ the Servant Lutheran Church)
• Socastee #2 (Palmetto Shores Church) to Socastee #3 (Forestbrook Elementary School)
• Tilly Swamp (Tilly Swamp Baptist Church) to Dogwood (Chesterfield Baptist Church)
• Toddville (Union Methodist Church) to Port Harrelson (Bucksport Community Center)
• West Conway (Horry County Justice Center) to East Conway (Conway Library)
• West Loris (James P. Stevens Building) to East Loris (Loris Elementary School)