Richland County to combine nearly 70 polling locations ahead of June 9 primary

The reduction in polling places is due in part to fewer poll workers

RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. (WOLO) —If you plan on voting in the South Carolina primaries in Richland County, you might be heading to a new polling place.

Terry Graham, the Interim Director of the county’s Board of Voter Registration and Elections, told the Richland County Legislative Delegation Tuesday up to 70 polling locations are being combined due to a lack of poll workers.

Graham said he only has 590 poll workers, including 72 clerks, on hand to work the primaries on June 9 and the subsequent run-offs June 23. This is 300 less than the total they had back for the 2016 primaries.

“It has been a struggle to get people to come that normally work for us, because a lot of those people are 65 years old or older and most of those are African American, which they feel they are the most affected by (the coronavirus),” Graham said.

Graham told lawmakers the county will have 10 people who normally work at polling places on hand to solely count envelopes and ballots.

Lawmakers asked about reports that county officials misplaced 72 ballots during the presidential preference primary in February. Graham responded that all the ballots are going to a secure location and will be counted by these workers.

Graham said the number of poll workers could grow in the coming weeks, since some are becoming more comfortable with going back out in public now that several businesses have reopened.

According to the State Election Commission, polling places will have hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment on hand for poll workers.

The 2020 state primaries are already starting to shape up to be different than other years, partly due to the rise in absentee ballot requests.

“We have done already over 18,000 requests, so most of those are being mailed out, and we mail out anywhere from 500 to 1,000 ballots a day,” Graham told the delegation.

This surge in absentee voting requests comes two weeks after lawmakers voted to allow people still under a state of emergency the ability to vote by mail. This only applies for the June 9 primary and the June 23 run-offs.

There might be smaller lines of people waiting to vote in June, but State Rep. Ivory Thigpen (D-Richland County) says even more people could vote without leaving their cars.

“People, particularly the elderly, may feel more comfortable staying in the confines of their car so I do expect an increase in it,” Rep. Thigpen said. 

Rep. Thigpen expressed concerns that signage and parking spaces for curbside voting has not been adequate in past elections. Graham told him that his staff would go to these polling places to make sure that is addressed.

Some lawmakers expressed concerns that voters might not show up on June 9 if their polling place is too far away. Some also talked about putting maps and signage on traditional polling places to alert people about the changes.

“We don’t want to disenfranchise anyone. We don’t want people to have a long drive and we want to make sure they have a close proximity to where their normal polling places are,” Graham said.

The delegation met after Rep. Beth Bernstein (D-Richland County) wrote a letter highlighting issues with the county’s election office and its future, especially with the hiring of a permanent director for the board.  Ten additional lawmakers signed off on the letter, which was sent to Rep. Jimmy Bales (D-Richland County), the Chairman of the Richland County Delegation, on May 18.

Charles Austin, the Chair of the Richland County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, said they would start trimming down a list of 14 candidates this week, and start interviews at the end of the week.

Graham said information about the new polling locations would be mailed out to voters starting Wednesday. To find out where your polling place is located, click here.

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