THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Elections: County GOP chairman calls for smaller precincts
By Jackie R. Broach
Last month’s S.C. Republican primary was a perfect example of why the Georgetown County Board of Elections needs to make some changes before November, said Jim Jerow, chairman of the Georgetown County Republican Party.
For starters, voting precincts in Pawleys Island and Murrells Inlet need to be split to accommodate large numbers of voters, he planned to tell the board at a meeting on Wednesday night. According to handbooks given to poll managers, precincts with 1,500 or more registered voters should be split.
All five Pawleys Island precincts far exceed that number, according to voters registration figures from the state Election Commission. So do two Murrells Inlet precincts, Andrews, Browns Ferry and Spring Gully, which Jerow also made mention of.
That many voters reporting to a single polling location means longer wait times, which is especially a problem on the Waccamaw Neck, where there is a larger population of elderly residents, Jerow said.
“You have an older group of people standing in line and standing for extensive periods,” he said. “That’s not always easy for them. We need to re-evaluate and make it easier for voters to vote and maybe more will turn out.”
That used to be a problem for Celeste Spade’s late husband, she said during the primary. He had difficulty standing, but didn’t want to vote curbside. After the River Club residents waited in a winding line outside the Waccamaw Library during the 2008 general election, he decided to vote absentee in the future.
“The people were always very nice over at the library,” Spade said. But the line “was just ridiculous.”
Absentee ballots are the best option for elderly or disabled residents, said Donna Mahn, Georgetown County director of elections and voters registration. Voters can request absentee ballots for the June and November elections now.
Mahn acknowledged the guidelines for splitting precincts, but said they’re rarely followed.
“Some precincts in some of the other counties have 4,000 or 5,000 voters,” she said.
The county board of elections and voters registration made a move toward splitting precincts a few years ago, but the county’s legislative delegation “shot us down,” she said.
“I guess it wasn’t feasible at the time,” she added, mentioning associated costs, including more voting machines and poll workers.
Along with splitting precincts, new polling locations need to be found for two Waccamaw Neck precincts, Jerow said. He would like to see Pawleys Island 4 moved from St. Mary’s AME Church.
“Parking conditions are horrible and if there is inclement weather, there’s no place to stand but outside,” he said.
Murrells Inlet 1, at Heaven Gate, also needs to move to a larger location he argues.
Pawleys Island 2 moved from the Waccamaw Library to All Saints Church in time for the primary and that move was applauded by poll workers and voters alike. The location is larger, has more parking space and has plenty of room for voters to line up inside rather than out in the elements as they did at the library.
Making the rounds of the precincts during the primary and talking with voters after, Jerow said there were several other issues that should be addressed by the board.
“One of the things reported back to me by the watchers and workers is they ran out of supplies,” Jerow said. Those included the “I Voted” stickers, which left some voters disappointed.
He was also told that some people working the polls were hard of hearing or had trouble operating the computers, which slowed the process.
“They need to do a review of people going to work there so they know they can hear and are computer literate,” Jerow said.
He also planned to lodge a complaint about the fact that every precinct was given one laptop for use during the primary, regardless of the number of registered voters at the precinct.
“We had one precinct that had seven voters, but they had a laptop. Another had 933, but they also had one laptop,” Jerow said. “There were 13 precincts where there were 100 or less voters. History should tell you pretty much what turnout is going to be. “
When precincts have numbers that small, it makes sense to have them check in voters manually and put laptops in larger precincts, he said.
Laptops were divided one to each precinct for the primary because of anticipated low turnout, Mahn said. Additionally, there were fewer poll workers because of state cuts, which also slowed things down at the polls. Larger precincts will have two laptops for the June primary and general elections, she said.
Large voter turnout is anticipated in June and November, so Mahn said voters should expect lines.
“People just need to be aware and realize they will have to allow some time to be there,” she said. “The workers are making it go as fast as they can, but that’s the nature of the beast.”
Those who are eligible are advised to take advantage of absentee ballots.