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Election 2016: Early rush to polls creates some long waits

By Charles Swenson
John Scrantom showed up at 5:50 a.m. to vote in what became a historic presidential election. He wasn’t caught up in the occasion, he just wanted to get to work.

“I’d rather wait early and vote,” he said. “There are people who are going to wait a whole lot longer than I did.”

Poll workers at Pawleys Island 2, the largest precinct in Georgetown County, opened the doors of the Waccamaw Regional Recreation Center to Scrantom at 6 a.m. He stood at the head of the line until 7 a.m., while the poll manager, Rita Smith, waved him forward. By then, a couple of hundred people were lined up around the gym floor and down the hallway. Most were bundled up against the temperature in the 40s. A few wore shorts. Some in Clemson and Carolina colors, a few in Waccamaw High athletic wear. They held coffee in Styrofoam and stainless steel cups. Some held children in their arms. A couple of women brought their knitting.

After Scrantom, another 1,377 voters made their way to the eight machines lined up against a wall. “I’d just like to get the country straightened out,” said Scrantom as he headed to his job as a carpenter. “We’re in a bad way.” He voted for Donald Trump along with 742 other voters, 53 percent of those who came through the doors.

Scrantom, a Republican, also voted for the parties other candidates, and he supported the $165 million school bond referendum. “You have to look after the children,” he said.

Not everyone who came after Scrantom waited as long. Those who came in around 6:45 a.m. were out the door by 7:20. Those who came after 7 reported waits of almost two hours.

By the time Kayla Burgess arrived to vote around midday, the line was down to about 50. She handed over her ID at one of two computers set up to check registrations. “Ding, ding, ding,” said Smith. “We have another first-time voter.” Burgess got a round of applause.

She was only 17 at the last presidential election. As a 21-year-old senior at the University of South Carolina, Burgess drove home for the day to vote. She called the experience “surreal.”

“It’s a really important thing to do,” she said. “I wanted to use my voice.”

Asked about her choices, she drew two fingers across her lips to show they were zipped and to affirm her faith in the secret ballot. But she added, “this election is very important.”

Turnout on Election Day was 41 percent at Pawleys Island 2. When absentee votes were included, turnout was 68.3 percent, poll workers said. Turnout in the county was 69.3 percent.

Poll workers and poll watchers said much of the turnout on Tuesday came in the morning. At Pawleys Island 1, which moved next door to Waccamaw Intermediate School from the Waccamaw Library follow the primary elections, poll manager Diana Williamson said there were 100 people in line when voting began. By midday it was down to about 75. One of the eight voting machines broke and there were some holdups with voters whose addresses couldn’t be verified. Otherwise, it went smoothly, Williamson said.

Voting in the school cafeteria had the added benefit of allowing voters to sit at the tables that defined the waiting line.

By the time Thomas Rhea and his son Hampton arrived at 6:58 p.m., the only line at Pawleys Island 2 was poll workers waiting to rearrange the furniture. A supervisor with Coastal Structures, Rhea had been to the precinct earlier, decided not to wait, but then rushed back before the 7 p.m. closing. “Hampton was the big push,” he said. His son is a student at Waccamaw Elementary. “They’ve been talking about the election.”

The last voter at Pawleys 2, like the first voter, cast his ballot for Trump. Rhea called him “the lesser of two evils.” He also supported the school bond referendum. His wife is an occupational therapist for the school district, and he said “growing up in the schools around here, they need some work.”

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