Originally created 11/07/96

Local turnout far outshines nation's



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Tuesday's presidential election turnout was the nation's lowest since 1924, but you wouldn't know it around here.

Ask Donna Connor. She waited three hours to cast her vote at an Edgefield County polling place. "They just weren't prepared for it," she said Wednesday.

Cooled by President Clinton's almost certain victory, more than half of America's eligible voters stayed home on Election Day, producing the lowest turnout since Calvin Coolidge's ho-hum campaign.

But none of the counties in the Augusta area dropped below 60 percent voter turnout. In fact, historically active Columbia County sent more than 75 percent of its registered voters to the booths.

Voters in South Carolina's Aiken and Edgefield counties had to contend with the longest lines in the Augusta area, according to official reports, even though the turnout was lower than the 1992 presidential election.

"I think about 1,500 people didn't vote countywide because of the lines," said Denton Johnson, executive director of the Aiken County Election and Voter Registration Commission. "I was thinking about it the other night. If everybody only has five minutes to vote (according to state law), there's no way everybody who's registered in the county could vote on Tuesday if they took the whole five minutes."

In Aiken County, 44,738 out of 65,512 registered voters, or 68.3 percent, cast ballots on Tuesday, which was down from 48,096 of 58,594 voters visiting the polls in 1992.

A record 59,475 Richmond County voters hit the polls Tuesday, which was 62 percent of the record 96,649 voters registered. Election officials attribute much of that growth to the push from federal motor-voter legislation, which allows would-be voters to register at government offices such as driver license and welfare offices.

"Motor-voter did what it was designed to do; get a lot of people registered by making it as convenient as possible. It looks like a lot of those people actually voted, too," said Lynn Bailey, Richmond County Board of Elections executive director.

Edgefield County had one of the longest lines Tuesday, were the last person voted at 10:45 p.m. after waiting in line since before the polls closed at 7 p.m. Sixty-seven percent of the 11,460 voters turned out at Edgefield County polls.

The 34,405 Columbia County voters - 75 percent of the 45,863 registered - who turned out Tuesday had more booths per voter than any other Augusta-area county at one booth for every 100 voters. Georgia law requires at least one booth for every 200 voters, which is the ratio Richmond County follows.

Edgefield County's Merriwether precinct, where Ms. Connor voted, had five voting machines to handle 1,630 voters during the day, which amounted to one machine for every 326 voters.

South Carolina requires that precincts have only one voting machine for every 350 voters, Mr. Denton said.

Voting officials say the lines could be shortened with more polling booths, but at about $400 each, it isn't cost-effective to purchase equipment that gets fully utilized only once every four years.

"Yesterday was probably the first time many of the voters had to stand in line since 1980. There was just so much interest in this election and so many people registered that we were bound to slow down a little bit," said Rudy Olson, executive director of the Columbia County Board of Elections.

The Associated Press and South Carolina Bureau of The Chronicle contributed to this report.