SIMPSONVILLE, S.C. - Low turnout was reported at precincts across South Carolina for Tuesday primaries as voters headed to the polls under cloudy skies, and in some cases rainy weather, to choose nominees for statewide offices, congressional races and many state House seats.
A steady rain greeted poll workers in Simpsonville as they opened the Crossroads Community Church precinct. Poll manager Marianne Raubolt said turnout in the usually busy precinct was "extremely slow."
In the first 90 minutes, only 29 voters had entered booths to choose their preference in the Democratic or Republican primary. Usually, even during a primary, the precinct would have seen as many as 200 voters in that time period, Raubolt said.
Statewide turnout was reported low Tuesday at more than 2,000 precincts, said State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire, adding there were at least two reports of power outages in the Upstate.
More than 2.4 million voters are registered in South Carolina. Turnout in recent years has ranged from 43 percent in 1994 when both parties held crowded gubernatorial primaries to 17 percent in 1998 when there were no primaries for governor.
Periods of heavy rain, thunderstorms and possible tornadoes were expected across eastern South Carolina as Tropical Storm Alberto moved onshore in Florida and headed northeast, forecasters said. A tropical storm warning was issued for Colleton, Beaufort and Charleston counties, and a flood watch was issued for counties in the Midlands and Lowcountry.
Rain totals exceeding 5 inches were possible in the area, according to the National Weather Service. However, forecasters said flooding should not be a widespread problem since much of the area has been abnormally dry this year.
"Weather is something we're having to contend with today," Whitmire said. "But the system is able to cope with power outages, and we don't expect any real problems."
One political observer said Tuesday's turnout would have been low without the inclement weather. "It wasn't going to be good, and the rain couldn't have helped," said Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University. "All off-year elections are going to have lower voter turnout."
Huffmon attributed some of the low turnout to the lack of juicy issues such as the Confederate flag debate in 1998. "There's no issue that's going to inflame the passions of the general populace," Huffmon said. "The main issues are some people in the Republican Party are dissatisfied with Mark Sanford."
Tim Evans, poll manager at Dent Middle School in Columbia, said the turnout "started off a little weak" but "had picked up quite a bit" by 6 p.m.
He attributed the low numbers early Tuesday to the primary balloting. "Usually in a general election, we have people waiting in a line out the door," he said. Turnout had returned to about average by the evening, though, and about 280 voters had cast their ballots.
Poll manager Janice Johnson at the Hopkins Park polling site in Hopkins southeast of Columbia said a "small rush" greeted her workers at 7 a.m., but after that time the voters were only "dribbling in."
In Simpsonville, voter Peter Foley said the rainy weather didn't deter him. "It's an important right that people are still fighting for in this country," said Foley, a business developer.
In Charleston, turnout was "very light," said poll worker Barbara Loux. "In a general election, the line would be out into the street," she said.
There was seemingly more interest in the Republican primary because of only one contested statewide Democratic race.
In Loux's precinct, located in Charleston's historic district, 24 Republicans voted in the first two hours compared with four Democrats.
One Republican candidate for state treasurer worried Tuesday that the rain along the coast could hurt the turnout later in the day as clouds piled up across Charleston Harbor. "We're going to have bad weather," said Thomas Ravenel after voting just up from the Battery. "But if we're going to have bad weather, it doesn't need to be in my base."