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Elections: Polling places will move to larger quarters

Two more Waccamaw Neck voting precincts should be in bigger locations that are better able to accommodate heavy voter turnout in time for the June primary election.

Pawleys Island 4, in the Hagley area, will move from St. Mary’s AME Church to the gymnasium at Lowcountry Prep on Blue Stem Road.

Murrells Inlet 1 will move from Heaven Gate church to First Baptist Church on Bypass 17.

“It’s past the first hurdles,” Donna Mahn, Georgetown County director of Elections and Voters Registration, said of the move. She’s waiting to receive a letter of support for the changes from the county legislative delegation before she submits them to the Justice Department.

But once the request is received there, it will take at least 60 days to get it approved, so Mahn may have to step things up if the precinct changes are to be made in time for the primary — which is the goal.

“Time is of the essence, so I may go ahead and send it without the delegation letter and send that as an attachment later,” she said.

As soon as the change to the precincts has been approved, she added, her office will send out new voters cards to registered voters in the affected precincts.

The new polling locations will make voting a more comfortable experience for the public, according to Mahn.

At St. Mary’s, “parking conditions are horrible and if there is inclement weather, there’s no place to stand but outside,” Jim Jerow, chairman of the Georgetown County Republican Party, told the county Board of Elections last month. He asked them to find new polling locations for Pawleys Island 4 and Murrells Inlet 1.

Pawleys Island 2 moved from the Waccamaw Library to a larger venue at All Saints Church in time for the Republican presidential primary earlier this year, something that made voters and poll workers happy. The new location has more room for parking and for voters to line up inside rather than out in the elements like they did at the library.

Similar results will be obtained from the upcoming changes in Pawleys Island 4 and Murrells Inlet 4.

“We’ve really outgrown the space at both those places, plus parking is kind of iffy,” Mahn said. The new locations will be a great improvement.

When Jerow addressed the board last month, he also expressed concerns about having too few computers in larger precincts and about workers who had trouble operating the computers. Those things slowed the process and kept voters in line longer, he said.

That shouldn’t be an issue with upcoming elections, Mahn said. In the presidential primary, every precinct was given one laptop — even those that had only a handful of voters. Voter turnout for that election was significantly underestimated, Mahn said. For the general primary, larger precincts will have at least two laptops and Mahn will hit harder on operation of the computers during upcoming training sessions for poll workers.

Splitting precincts for Pawleys Island and Murrells Inlet was also on Jerow’s wish list, but there’s no word on that.

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 and three in the western part of the county.

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 Voter Registration made a move toward splitting precincts a few years ago, but the county’s legislative delegation “shot us down,” she said.

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