SC has poll worker shortage, unprecedented number of polling place changes due to coronavirus
South Carolina will be moving an unprecedented number of polling locations for the June 9 primary, forcing thousands of voters to go to a different spot than usual.
At least 168 polling places, or about 8 percent the state's roughly 2,200 polling places, will be moved, according to the South Carolina Election Commission.
It is mostly due to coronavirus effects from fewer poll workers and polling sites like churches withdrawing, said Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the election commission.
And another 145 polling places have been listed as potential consolidations, too, in many cases it will require more poll workers being hired to keep those sites where they are, Whitmire said.
The state has never dealt with such a significant disruption to polling places, Whitmire said.
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Consolidation itself is not unusual, there are polling places that are moved every election because they are understaffed or at facilities that are otherwise booked or under construction. But typically it is around a few dozen statewide rather than potentially hundreds of locations, Whitmire said.
It is not clear whether, or how, the consolidated polling places could affect the election.
Consolidation itself may not affect wait times inside polling locations, there may be some small delays due to coronavirus adaptations, but polling places accommodate far more people in November general elections than in June primaries, said Conway Belangia, Greenville County's elections director
But going to another location is not ideal and the confusion and frustration for voters who have to go elsewhere is why elections officials work hard to avoid moving locations, Whitmire said.
Changing polling places often leads to confusion and makes it more difficult for voters to cast their ballots, as well as challenging for election officials to communicate the changes, said Jeanette Senecal, senior director of mission impact for the League of Women Voters.
The polling place changes are being accompanied by an also-unprecedented number of absentee ballots for a primary.
The state has received more than 108,000 absentee ballots, as of two weeks before the election. That is more absentee ballots than either the 2016 or 2018 primaries and the numbers will only grow.
It's easier to vote absentee than previous years
Anyone can now cast an absentee ballot, there is no need to have a medical waiver or work conflict or other reason. And a requirement for a witness signature has been waived.
How to vote absentee:
- By mail. Request a ballot for yourself or an immediate family member here. Do this as soon as possible. The application is processed by county officials who mail the actual ballot to you and you need to return it and have it received on or before election day.
- In person by going to the election office. Greenville County has set up four satellite campuses as well as weekend hours and offices are open in Anderson and Pickens counties. For other county locations click here.
The shortage of poll workers in many counties throughout the state will make an already difficult election — with new safety precautions — more difficult.
The precautions include protective equipment for poll workers, plastic shields, encouragements for voters to wear masks and cotton swabs for voters to use to operate the voting machines.
Voters may be asked to pull down their masks so poll workers can verify their identity, said Belangia said.
He encourages people to bring their own pen to sign in, so poll workers don't have to disinfect one for them, and to wear a mask.
Some counties worse than others
Pickens County will likely be short around 150 poll workers for the June 9 primary, said the county's new elections director Travis Alexander.
Even with an ongoing aggressive hiring push, the county will only be able to field about 60 percent of a full staff of poll workers, he said.
Anderson County will be short 212 poll workers off their usual level, which is around 150 workers short of a full staffing, said Katy Smith, Anderson County's elections director, in an email.
There have long been shortages of poll workers in many counties throughout the state, but this year will be worse and much of it is due to coronavirus concerns among poll workers, Whitmire said.
In Greenville County, the election will likely see "bare bones" staffing at polling places, three people in many locations, said
He said there is a shortage of around 200 workers in Greenville County.
Kershaw County, the state's early epicenter of coronavirus cases, is short around 190 workers, Whitmire said.
Greenville County will be relocating 17 polling places, which is not an abnormal number for the county, Belangia said.
Pickens County is expected to finalize any consolidations by the end of the week, Alexander said. At one point, there were no consolidations planned but there may be several by the end of the week, in large part based on how many people apply for the poll jobs, he said.
Anderson County elections director Katy Smith did not respond to email and phone requests for comment about consolidations.
Pickens County's challenging election
Alexander started work in May after the county's full-time elections staff and its elections board members resigned in collective protest, leaving the county with an unprecedented lack of election leadership two months ahead of an election in the midst of a pandemic.
An elections board had to be put in place in order to fill the county election director position and the board now has six members. The county's elections office had two full-time positions in addition to the director, the board and hundreds of poll workers.
2020 voter guide: Pickens elections for county government, SC General Assembly, Congress
Alexander said that even with an ongoing push to hire poll workers, and there is still time to get hired, the county will be fielding about 60 percent of what should be a full assignment of 390 to 400 poll workers.
Poll workers typically get paid $135 for more than 12 hours of work on election day and training ahead of time. This year they will be paid $165 in Pickens County. The workers can get another $90 if there is a runoff election two weeks later, less money because there is no training required for the second time.
Poll workers in Greenville County get the same pay for the first election but no decrease in pay for a potential runoff, Belangia said.
He said the lower pay amounts to minimum wage, which isn't enough for Greenville County to pay.
At $90 for a runoff election, workers would get $7.50 an hour for the 12-hour shift, but many workers need to put in more hours to set up early and deliver equipment after the polls close. The state uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.