Absentee Ballots at Record Number for Primary

The Latest on the 2016 president election and two crucial contests Saturday: South Carolina’s Republican primary and Nevada’s Democratic caucuses:

Most of the presidential candidates will be awaiting the GOP primary results in South Carolina.

Donald Trump and Ben Carson will be in the Upstate on Saturday night – Trump in Spartanburg and Carson in Greenville. U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio will be holding watch parties in Columbia as will former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The only one of the six candidates who will not be in South Carolina is Ohio Gov. John Kasich who will be at an event in Worchester, Massachusetts.

4:20 p.m.

While state officials predict a record turnout of as many as 650,000 voters in the Republican presidential primary, one of the factors helping to keep voting lines short is the record number of absentee ballots that were returned this year.

About 59,000 absentee ballots have been returned, compared to 27,000 four years ago.

State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said possible reasons for the sharp increase in absentee voting include campaign efforts to get voters to vote absentee, more awareness of how to do it because of the Internet and social media, early voting in neighboring states influencing people in South

2:45 p.m.

Hundreds of voters are lining up to see Ohio Gov. John Kasich – in Massachusetts, not South Carolina.

Kasich is spending the day of the South Carolina Republican primary campaigning in Massachusetts and Vermont, states that vote on March 1. He’s about to kick off an afternoon town hall in Worcester, Mass., following a morning meeting with in Burlington, Vermont. He’ll watch the South Carolina primary results with supporters in Boston.

A cultural center in Worcester is packed with a standing-room only crowd waiting for Kasich and a line of voters is still waiting outside to enter the venue.

2:40 p.m.

Although only six Republican candidates are still vying for the GOP presidential nomination in Saturday’s voting in South Carolina, voters are seeing twice as many names on the ballot.

There were 12 candidates in the race when the ballot was finalized and absentee ballots distributed early last month, but since then six presidential hopefuls have dropped out.

While signs at polling places tell voters that those candidates are no longer running, people can cast their ballots for them just the same.

The State Election Commission says that it will report only vote totals for the six remaining candidates on Saturday night. However, votes for all the candidates appearing on the ballot will still be counted.

2 p.m.

Close call.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders almost crossed paths just before Nevada’s Democratic caucuses get underway.

First it was Sanders who stopped by an employee cafeteria at Harrah’s casino in Las Vegas. Just minutes after he left, Hillary Clinton came in and was greeted with cheers.

Unionized casino workers are an important constituency in the caucuses. Their union has ensured that a room at each casino is open for employees to caucus in during special, two-hour paid breaks.

1 p.m.

Bernie Sanders is kicking off his caucus day in Nevada with culinary workers at the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas.

Sanders tells reporters that “if there’s a large turnout I think we’re going to do just fine. If it’s a low turnout, that may be another story.”

Sanders drew cheers from union workers at the casino hotel’s cafeteria. He shook hands and posed for photos and asked workers if they planned to attend the caucuses.

12:40 p.m.

There have been a few primary-day glitches, but no problems affecting the actual vote as South Carolinians vote in the GOP presidential primary.

State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire says in one voting place in Florence County, poll workers couldn’t immediately get the voting machines up and running and so voters used paper ballots for a time.

He said the commission has also fielded questions about the law on campaign workers approaching people at the polls. Under state law you can’t distribute or display campaign material within 200 feet of the polls. But that doesn’t mean campaign workers can’t simply talk to voters closer to the polls.

Whitmire says that the commission received reports that some Mount Pleasant voters complained about campaign workers talking to them and the poll managers asked those workers to stay back 200 feet.

12:15 p.m.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has cast her vote for Marco Rubio in the Republican presidential primary

Haley voted late Saturday morning at her precinct at Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington. Her vote for Rubio was no surprise after she endorsed the U.S. senator from Florida earlier this week.

11:55 a.m.

John Kasich’s presidential campaign is already claiming a victory of sorts in South Carolina.

A top strategist, John Weaver, tells reporters that however the Republican candidate does in Saturday’s primary, Kasich’s showing will be enough to “drive somebody else out of the race.”

Weaver says he’s expecting two candidates to drop out over the next week – including Jeb Bush. Weaver says that “for all practical purposes, there’s no path forward” for the former Florida governor.

Kasich finished second in the New Hampshire primary, but the expectations are lower for his performance in South Carolina.

The Ohio governor hasn’t ignored South Carolina, but he has focused resources on states in the Midwest and Northeast that host contests in March.

10:45 a.m.

Ted Cruz has taken time away from campaigning in South Carolina to attend the funeral Mass in Washington for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Republican presidential candidate plans to be back in South Carolina later Saturday to await the results. Voting ends at 7 p.m.

The Texas senator has a personal connection to the high court: In the late 1990s, he served as a law clerk for a year to then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

10:10 a.m.

Jeb Bush says he’s “excited where we stand” as he faces a critically important test in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary.

Bush says he’s going to “work hard for the day” and await results after the polls close at 7 p.m. He says “it’s interesting that a lot of people claim they’re undecided this late.”

The former Florida governor entered the 2016 presidential race as an early favorite. But he may need a third-place finish – if not better – in South Carolina in order to remain a viable candidate.

Bush tells reporters outside a polling location in Greenville that “to be able to beat expectations would be helpful. I think we’ll do that.”

And his take on the prospects of a President Donald Trump? Bush says the billionaire businessman “can’t win, plain and simple.”

9:50 a.m.

South Carolina election officials are reporting no major problems in the first few hours of voting in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary.

State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said turnout was low to moderate, but that isn’t unexpected with the unusual Saturday voting eliminating the typical morning rush before work.

Whitmire says a handful of precincts had problems with getting machines booted up, but there were no serious problems.

Republican officials are expecting record turnout based on the interest in the race and South Carolina’s growing population. In 2012, 603,000 voted in the GOP presidential primary.

The weather was excellent too across the state, with highs in the 60s and 70s and almost no chance for rain.

9:15 a.m.

Will there by a “Haley effect” in South Carolina’ Republican presidential primary?

Jason Sims – a teacher from Mount Pleasant – says he made a last-minute decision to vote for Marco Rubio, and that Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement was “a big deal.”

Sims says he was “kind of riding the fence” until Haley said she was backing the Florida senator.

Rubio is trying to rebound after a disappointing fifth-place finish in New Hampshire – and he’s hoping the popular governor’s endorsement will be a big boost.

Rubio wants to emerge as the go-to candidate for mainstream Republicans – and the chief alternative to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the race.

8:40 a.m.

There’s a lot of attention on Jeb Bush as South Carolina Republican vote in their presidential primary.

The former Florida governor entered the 2016 presidential race as an early favorite. But he may need a third-place finish – if not better – on Saturday in order to remain viable in the race.

Bush finished sixth in Iowa’s leadoff caucuses and fourth in New Hampshire.

He’s trying to break out as the establishment alternative to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. But Bush has competition on that front, chiefly from Marco Rubio and John Kasich.

Without a strong showing in South Carolina, the Bush campaign may have a hard time competing in Nevada next week and then in the large number of states voting on March 1.

7 a.m.

Polls are open in South Carolina for the state’s key Republican presidential primary amid projections of a record turnout.

State Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore is predicting as many as 650,000 voters will cast ballots by the time the polls close at 7 p.m. on Saturday evening.

That would easily eclipse the record of just over 600,000 who voted four years ago.

Moore says there seems to be increased interest this time because people have been more involved in campaigns through social media and smartphones.

Six candidates are vying in the GOP primary.

Categories: State