South Carolina elections adapt amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC)-- This week, it's South Carolina’s turn to hold elections, and the Palmetto State has already set a new a record for the most absentee ballots cast in a state-wide primary.

South Carolina primary voters will use cotton swabs as one of the coronavirus pandemic precautions. (Source: Gray DC/WTOC)

If you’re voting in-person Tuesday, you’ll see the poll workers wearing masks, gloves and face shields. It’s just one of the many ways this coronavirus is changing this election year.

“We’re trying to institute touchless voting," said South Carolina Election Commission spokesman, Chris Whitmire.

Whitmire said they’re taking many steps to keep voters and volunteers healthy amid this pandemic.

At polling places, there will be social-distancing markers, sneeze guards at check-in, plus hand sanitizer. Officials are asking voters to bring their own mask and pen—though not required. When checking in, voters will hold up photo I-D behind a plastic screen. Then, they’ll receive a cotton swab to cast their ballot on the voting machine.

“They’re cheap, they’re disposable. They really work.” Whitmire said.

Whitmire said officials will also clean the voting equipment and high-touch areas throughout the day. He warned all these precautions may mean voting will take longer.

“For election day, we just ask everybody to be patient.” He said.

Because of the pandemic procedures, about 250 polling sites have moved. Officials say to check for your location before heading out to vote.

“…Either the facility has said you can’t use this …or in some counties there have been shortages of poll managers." Whitmire said.

Public health expert, Dr. Amanda Castel said she thinks with all these precautions in place – as long as there is enforcement – voting will be safe this week.

“I think that we have to find ways to allow the election process to go forward," Castel said.

This year, the General Assembly changed the law so effectively all South Carolina voters can participate this year with absentee ballots.

Whitmire said there’s a chance election results will not be fully counted until the next day with all the new protocols and the record number of absentee ballots on their hands.

He said that does NOT mean the elections are any less accurate or secure.
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