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Early votes cast for SC's primaries; record heat expected

Nikki Haley
Meg Kinnard/AP
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley gestures to U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace during a campaign rally ahead of of South Carolina's GOP primary elections on Sunday, June 12, 2022, in Summerville, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

If Tuesday's primaries in South Carolina end up having typical turnout, about 1 in 6 ballots have already been cast during the state's first early voting period.

Shortening lines at the polls could be especially helpful for officials on Election Day, when the temperature is expected to soar to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or above across much of the state, with the humidity making it feel as hot as 112 degrees.

Doctors recommend people spend as little as 15 minutes outside at a time in that kind of heat; voters regularly wait outside in some polling places in the state. Balloting locations are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

Voter turnout in South Carolina in runoffs is typically between 15% and 25%. Experts expect fairly low turnout in this year's primary without a highly competitive Republican race for governor.

Voters are choosing a Democratic candidate for governor and for the U.S. Senate. Along the coast, there are hotly contested Republican primaries for the U.S. House involving incumbents Nancy Mace and Tom Rice.

More than 115,000 votes have already been cast, according to South Carolina Election Commission data released Monday.

Just over 100,000 of them were cast during the state's new early voting period, which allowed anyone to vote on weekdays for two weeks before the election.

Horry County, where U.S. Rep. Rice is being challenged by six Republicans, led the state with 11,600 early votes. Beaufort County, which has both U.S. Rep Mace's race and a contentious Republican primary for sheriff, saw the third most early votes in the state with more than 7,800 cast.

Richland County, one of the most solidly Democratic counties in the state, saw the second most early votes with 9,300 cast.

Early voting tended to be more popular along the coast and less in the Upstate.

An additional 14,900 absentee votes have been received, election officials said.

The 115,000 early votes would equal about 18% of the votes cast in the 2018 midterm primaries, which included a highly contested Republican governor primary. It would represent about 25% of the votes in 2014, when neither Democrats nor Republicans had a contested gubernatorial primary.

South Carolina hasn't seen widespread temperatures of 100 or above for a primary for at least 30 years. The high at Columbia's airport on primary day was 98 in 2008, 97 in 2016 and 96 in 2014. The average high for the June primaries since 1992 in Columbia has been 89 degrees.