Would you feel democracy was at work if your local, county or state elected official were chosen by only 8% of registered voters? Probably not, but winners of our South Carolina’s primary elections have historically been chosen by a small percentage of our state’s voters.
June 14 is primary election day for South Carolina’s Democratic and Republican parties. Unless we help increase the numbers of people who show up to vote, a small minority of voters will determine who is likely to pass laws and set policies on our behalf.
In the last midterm primary elections in 2018, only 622,100 of our state’s 3.1 million registered voters—20.4%—voted in the primaries. When participation is examined by party, only 12.3 % of registered voters voted in the Democratic primary and 8.1% of registered voters voted in the Republican primary. In contrast, 50% of voters turned out for the 2018 general election.
So why does low turnout in the primaries matter? It matters because in South Carolina, which is dominated by one political party, the primary election often serves as the general election.
Why do people who are registered fail to vote?
I suspect in some cases it is that they lack information about candidates or important election information.
In the 2022 primaries, there are 124 races and 367 candidates running for office in South Carolina. Critical positions like our U.S. senator, U.S. representative, state representative, governor and four other statewide positions will be on the ballot. In one race alone, there are six candidates competing in the state superintendent of education Republican primary and three in the Democratic primary. How can a voter make a choice?
To provide voters with the election information they need, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina publishes an online candidate guide called VOTE411. VOTE411 is a free, one-stop source of election information. Users can register to vote, verify their registration, learn their polling place and important election dates, view their ballot and learn about the candidates running in each race.
The League of Women Voters has asked for biographical information and has posed questions of general interest which the candidates answer in their own words. Before going to the polls, a voter can mark a sample ballot with their choices for each race, print it out, and take it with them as a reference when they vote. VOTE411 provides easy access to nonpartisan information to help voters make informed choices at the polls.
In other cases, voters may fail to show up at the polls because they don’t think their vote is important. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This election cycle voters will not only make decisions about who will represent them at state and federal levels, but also at the local level. Local elections have particular importance as many decisions about education, roads, taxation, safety, the environment, and other issues are made by local officials. Our votes ensure that our laws and policies reflect the values and beliefs of our communities, not those of a hyper-motivated few.
South Carolina’s legislature recently approved two weeks of no-excuse early voting, which began May 31 for the June primary election. Since voters don’t register with a party in South Carolina, they may vote in either party’s primary, but not both. In the event of a runoff election two weeks later, they may only vote in the same party’s primary runoff. Recent changes have also been made in absentee voting. Information about early voting polling places and absentee voting can be found at scvotes.gov.
I look at Election Day in much the same way as I look at the Fourth of July– a patriotic reminder of our country’s almost 250 years of government of, by and for the people. Our right to vote is a precious one that underlies all other individual rights, rights that the citizens of Ukraine are fighting—and dying for—to retain.
Your vote is your voice. Don’t give it away. Learn all you can about the primary election races, share a link to VOTE411 with your family and friends, and then–either by early, absentee, or in-person voting on June 14—vote!
Nancy Williams is president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.