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Patience put to the test in long lines

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Billie Wharton took one look at the long, twisting line of voters at Waccamaw High School Tuesday morning and thought about turning around and going back home.

“I almost did,” the Chapel Creek resident said. “I wanted to.”

But instead, she went out to her car, got a book to read and joined the line, waiting an hour and a half to enter the voting booth.

“It was the right thing to do,” Wharton said. “Our livelihoods and so many other things depend on what we can do in there. Thank God I’m an American and have that opportunity.”

Of Waccamaw Neck’s nine voting precincts, the wait time at the high school was among the longest. That precinct, Pawleys 5, is third in the number of registered voters, but was first in voter turnout with 54.5 percent — just below the county’s total turnout of 55 percent.

“I’ve never seen it this busy,” said Dan Spencer, a poll watcher at Pawleys 1 at St. Paul’s Waccamaw United Methodist Church, where 545 voters had cast ballots by noon. Nearly 1,200 had been through by the time polls closed.

But turnout at Pawleys 3 was actually 6 percent lower than two years ago. In fact, turnout at all the Waccamaw Neck precincts was lower than in 2008. The smallest difference was in Pawleys 5 (5 percent) and the largest in Murrells Inlet 3 (24 percent).

At Pawleys 2, a line stretched outside the Waccamaw Library and wrapped around the side of the building for most of the day, but two years ago that line stretched all the way to Library Lane. Turnout was about 10 percent lower there.

Some voters weren’t willing to wait.

As they left Pawleys 5, a couple approached S.C. Rep. Vida Miller, who was there greeting voters. The line was too long, and the husband had a golf game to get to, they told her.

Bobbie Turner also left without voting when she saw the line winding through front lobby at Pawleys Island Community Church. But she planned to come back later in the day when the line, hopefully, would be shorter, she said.

Despite big crowds, Donna Mahn, the county’s director of elections and voters registration said she is unaware of any precincts that were late closing and, with the exception of a few minor problems with voting machines, the day went smoothly. Poll workers said voters were, for the most part, patient and well-behaved while they waited.

Precincts in Murrells Inlet didn’t have the long lines seen in Pawleys, but poll workers said there was a steady stream of voters.

“It’s been busy all day, just not crazy,” said J. Carry Keane at Murrells Inlet 4, where 530 voters (47 percent) turned out.

“That’s fantastic for this precinct,” said poll manager Sue Craddock. “We usually don’t have more than 300.”

Voters said duty or a desire for change were their primary motivations for going to the polls.

“Everybody wants change right now,” said Jim MacGillis, who voted in Pawleys 5.

Like many other voters, MacGillis named the gubernatorial race as the most important in this year’s election. He was backing Republican Nikki Haley, who beat Democrat Vincent Sheheen in every Waccamaw Neck precinct.

Widespread support for Haley on Waccamaw Neck was obvious when she stopped at the GOP’s Victory 2010 office at Pawleys Plaza last week.

Arriving to Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You,” Haley received a rock star welcome from about 100 screaming, sign-waving fans, who waited in line to take pictures with Haley and have T-shirts and other items signed.

At the time, Georgetown County Republican Party chairman Tom Swatzel predicted a big win for Republicans in the county this year.

“I think we’re seeing more and more signs there’s going to be a very strong turnout this year,” he said.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm. A lot of people are wanting a change and we’ve got some very strong candidates at the top of the ticket.”

Chris Farinella said he, too, went to the polls hoping for change, but not the kind Swatzel referred to.

“I really don’t want Jim DeMint to get re-elected” to the U.S. Senate, Farinella said. That was his primary reason for going to the polls. He’s a Democrat, but he said he voted for Green party candidate Tom Clements over Democrat Alvin Greene.

DeMint won easily in all Waccamaw Neck precincts.

Tom Housner, who voted at Pawleys Island 5, said he was concerned that none of the voters he saw were under 30 and only a few were under 40.

“I know we live in a retirement area; I understand that,” he said. “It just seems there’s a lot of apathy among young voters. I would have thought it would get better. It seems to be getting worse.”

Judith Gilmore of Willbrook said the races this year seemed to be more competitive than ever.

Wharton also noted that and remarked that many campaigns seemed to focus more on personal attacks than the issues.

“I think citizens are fed up with that,” she said. “People want politics to be serious. We’re ready to start taking care of business for our state.”

As they left the polls, voters said they were expecting the election results would bring some surprises.

“Anything could happen,” said Susie Tuck as she left Pawleys 3.

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