Lexington County Had Funding Available for 6 Early Voting Locations, Used 1

County Says State Didn’t Fund Enough Workers

Posted 6/23/22

After Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill in May allowing for two weeks of early voting in South Carolina without an excuse, counties were required to offer at least one early voting location ahead of the June 14 primary.

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Lexington County Had Funding Available for 6 Early Voting Locations, Used 1

County Says State Didn’t Fund Enough Workers

Posted

Lexington County, which was eligible to receive state funding for up to six early voting locations, used one for this month’s primary election

After Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill in May allowing for two weeks of early voting in South Carolina without an excuse, counties were required to offer at least one early voting location ahead of the June 14 primary, Chris Whitmire, deputy director of the S.C. State Election Commission, told the Chronicle.

But the state offered funding (to pay for five poll workers per day) for up to seven early voting locations depending on the county’s population. Lexington’s 293,991 people (according to the U.S. Census Bureau) made it eligible for funding for up to six locations, Whitmire said.

Richland County, Lexington’s neighbor across the Congaree River, was one of two counties to use five early voting locations. No county had more than five.

Richland, the second largest county in the state, was made eligible by its population of 418,307 to have the maximum seven early voting locations funded by the state.

Whitmire noted that Lexington isn’t the only large county to use one early voting location.

Including Lexington, the sixth most populous county in South Carolina, five of the state’s seven largest counties had just one location —  the others are Greenville (the state’s most populous county at 533,834), Charleston (413,024), Spartanburg (335,864) and York (288,595).

By population, Lexington is the fourth largest of the 27 counties using just one early voting location. By area, it’s the seventh largest.

Of the 19 counties using multiple locations, 17 have smaller populations than Lexington.

Whitmire said counties were put in a difficult position, having to plan for early voting locations that had to start operating May 31 after the bill was signed May 13. 

Lenice Shoemaker, director of Lexington County Registration & Elections, said a key reason the county didn’t push beyond the one required early voting location was because she needs seven poll workers per location, and there wasn’t time to figure out county funding for the additional two poll workers at more locations.

“You have to have two people checking in,” Shoemaker said. “I need two people on the floor to get people to their ballot marking devices, if they have any questions. I have to have one at the scanner and one at the exit to make sure no one leaves with their ballot, make sure they're not chatting and walk away with it. And I have to have two to do curbside [voting].”

Shoemaker also noted the need to make funds available to increase the number of poll workers to between eight and 12 in case of high voter traffic.

Both Shoemaker and Whitmire mentioned finding locations that could operate for the duration of early voting — 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday May 31-June 10 — was difficult with the tight turnaround, and Shoemaker noted that securing spaces big enough to handle potential crowds was another challenge.

In Lexington, early voting is taking place at the county Voter Registration and Elections Office (605 West Main St.), which will be open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. through Friday, June 24, for primary runoffs.

“Determining those locations in less than two weeks when you have to make sure you've got it for two weeks ... it was a challenge just based on the timing of when the law passed,” Whitmire said.

Whitmire said that with more time to plan going into the November general election and future primaries, he expects to see more counties using multiple early voting locations.

Shoemaker was similarly hopeful about Lexington adding more locations in November, explaining that she would ideally like to have four early polling places, spreading them out into the farther reaches of the county.

She emphasized that she can’t guarantee anything until she makes recommendations to Lexington County Council and finds out if they are willing to allocate additional funds, a decision that is likely to come in the next couple months.

Shoemaker also noted that it would be helpful if the state opened up funding for additional poll workers.

“Lexington County, they're wonderful,” she said of her expectations for November funding. “For one, they're going to follow the law, which says you need to have ... at least one. And I think they want to serve the towns and the county. They want to serve them and help them in early voting. So I know that they’ll be stepping up.”

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