Kevin Ruth stood in line twice to vote this month. The first time he went to cast a ballot at the Horry County elections office on Oct. 5, he received a printout of his choices, but he never entered them into a scanner. He didn’t realize he needed to do so.
A trucking company owner who lives in Allsbrook, Ruth’s vote likely would never have been counted if his girlfriend hadn’t noticed the slip of paper on their counter. She told him she had done the same thing, but a poll worker caught her as she was leaving and told her the paper needed to be scanned. Fortunately for Ruth, when he returned to the elections office last week, the paper slipped into the computer and he left knowing he had done his civic duty.
“I’m quite sure I’m not the only one,” he said.
Elections always have challenges. Machines malfunction. Poll workers get confused. Voters forget their IDs at the polls. But Horry County election officials have been pleased with the process so far. The state’s decision to allow any voter to cast an early ballot this fall meant that instead of being inundated with questions and concerns on one day, the process has been spread out in a more manageable fashion.
“It’ll still be busy [today],” said Sandy Martin, the director of the Horry County Voter Registration and Elections Office. “But it won’t be near as busy as it would have been. That’s for sure.”
As of Monday afternoon, nearly 100,000 people in Horry County had already voted. That’s more than close to 40% of the county’s registered voters.
“It’s [100,000] people we don’t have to deal with Election Day,” Martin said. “It shows you that we need early voting in South Carolina.”
It’s unclear if state lawmakers will allow this type of early voting in future elections. Typically absentee voters must meet one of the state’s eligibility requirements (age 65 and older, military service, etc.). But county officials are already preparing for the possibility that this could become the norm. This year, the county opened three satellite locations for absentee voting. In years past, those who want to cast an absentee ballot on a voting machine had to come to the elections office in Conway. This fall, amid concerns about COVID-19, the county opened locations at the South Strand Recreation Center, the Carolina Forest Library and the North Strand Recreation Center to accommodate an expected surge in absentee votes. Martin hopes to open these locations for future elections.
“It’ll be hard to get by without them from now on, now that people have used them,” she said. “It’s not a cheap measure. It takes a lot of money and a lot of planning for these.”
County officials initially budgeted $30,000 for the satellite locations. County spokeswoman Kelly Moore said officials expect to “significantly exceed that amount,” though they don’t know yet what the final cost of staffing, equipment and other related expenses will be. However, Moore noted that the county received a $185,000 grant that should cover any overages.
Martin maintains the remote sites were a good investment.
“This was our first time having them,” she said. “Things have went extremely well for it being our first time. We jumped out and did three, right off the bat.”
Martin said her office had heard concerns about long lines, but that was it.
“You picture this," she said. "If we did not have those three other satellite locations, what would the situation be here [in Conway]?”
Voters also seemed to appreciate the voting options.
Greg and Terri Ann Furlong voted early for the first time last week at the Conway elections office. The Conway couple figured the process would be quicker that voting next week.
“COVID’s got me out early,” Greg Furlong said. “I don’t want to be standing in too long of a line on Election Day.”
His wife agreed.
“Honestly, I wanted to vote on Election Day,” she said. “I feel strongly about that, but I just recovered from pneumonia … so that had me concerned.”
Alissa Watts drove all the way from Green Sea to cast an early ballot. She had taken her son Rylan to a dental appointment, so the timing was convenient.
“We’ve got him in virtual school anyway because of allergies and breathing issues,” she said. “So we felt it would be best to avoid the crowds if we could.”
Michael Cologna of Conway voted early for the first time this year. He requested an absentee ballot, filled it out and returned it to the Conway elections office last week.
“I had both my hips replaced and standing up for too long is difficult,” he said.
Although Cologna could have mailed his ballot to the office, he didn’t want to depend on the postal service.
“I wanted to see it go in,” he said.
Early voting ended Monday, but registered voters can still go to their polling place today. Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
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