NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Charleston County election officials say Tuesday’s primary election saw a record turnout at county polls while in the midst of a pandemic. Other Lowcountry counties say they saw similar increases.
Officials say they were expecting a spike in absentee ballots because of social distancing but they weren’t expecting numbers to be up across the board. Director of Elections in Charleston County Joe Debney says the turnout was incomparable.
“There is nothing to compare with the state-wide primary in Charleston County to this,” says Debney. “Total for this one we’re talking over 66,000 people came out and cast their ballot yesterday.”
Voter turnout in Charleston County crushed turnout in previous years, the next closest was the Gubernatorial Primary in 2018 when Charleston County collected around 50,000 votes. In Berkeley County, Director of Voter Registration and Elections Adam Hammons says no records were broken but saw a similar trend.
“The overall turnout was a little over twenty two percent, historically the average is right around twenty percent,” says Hammons.
Both Berkeley and Charleston Counties say they saw the largest increase in absentee ballots likely due to COVID-19 but in-person voting was also strong across the Tri-County.
“As far as our in-person out at the precincts, we saw pretty much average kind of like we normally do,” says Hammons. “There were some that were slower than others.”
Voters who made their way to voting locations might have noticed differences such as social distancing guidelines, Debney says the new restrictions caused some slow downs.
“A lot of locations did have wait times because of the social distancing and COVID-19 and consolidation of locations,” says Debney.
If COVID-19 impacts are still being felt come Election Day in November, both Hammons and Debney say precincts will be prepared to take similar measures.
“There will be the same social distancing practices, the same using a Q-Tip to make your selections on the screen,” says Hammons.
“Keeping these same protocols in place, having that social distancing but trying to figure out ways to have more poll workers work for us but also to have people come and go quickly,” says Debney.
Debney says he is expecting an even higher turnout for the Presidential Election in November even if safety protocols remain in place. Debney says he also encourages those who can vote absentee to do so.