Horry County voters could have more options for casting an absentee ballot in November’s election.
State election officials have asked the county to designate two to three additional sites for voting absentee in person, and local leaders aim to make that happen.
“We really don’t have a choice,” said Sandy Martin, the director of the county’s Voter Registration and Elections Office. “This office can’t handle the number of people we will see in November, especially with COVID.”
Absentee voting allows people to cast a ballot before Election Day, either in person at the county elections office or by mail. In a normal election, it's an option for people who fall into one of 18 categories (for example, military members, those 65 and older, people with disabilities).
But for last month’s primaries, state officials allowed “no excuse” absentee voting because of concerns about COVID-19. That meant anyone could cast an absentee ballot and nearly 10,000 Horry voters did. If state leaders allow "no excuse" absentee voting for the Nov. 3 election, Martin said her office could see twice that amount. She said that's why it's important for people to have additional satellite locations where they can cast an absentee ballot before the election.
Although no sites have been selected yet, Martin said she’s been in discussions about possible absentee voting locations in the North Strand, South Strand and Carolina Forest.
“We’ve never done this before,” she said. “We’re trying to help the voters.”
For years, local election officials have discussed the possibility of expanding absentee voting options because of the county’s population growth. Other large counties in the state have taken this step, Martin said, and Horry now has well over 200,000 registered voters.
“With a county our size, it’s definitely recommended,” she said. “This may be the way it is from now on.”
There will be a cost for the expansion, though. Martin said the county would have to pay poll workers to staff the sites daily, and there’s also a cost for equipment. She said there will be some reimbursement from the state, but not for the full expense.
Assistant county administrator Barry Spivey told county council’s administration committee about the potential absentee options this week. He said the additional locations would be needed for the entire month of October leading up to Election Day. Voters can cast an absentee ballot in person until 5 p.m. the day before an election (if they request a ballot by mail, they have until 7 p.m. on Election Day to return it to the elections office in Conway).
“Just keep that in mind,” Spivey said. “The assumption here [with] the COVID environment is that there will be a lot more people wanting to do absentee balloting. So we’re trying to find the ways to make that possible.”