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Columbia Business Monthly

South Carolina Voter Participation Remains Low in 2022 Primary

Aug 11, 2022 10:05AM ● By David Dykes

Amid all of the political rhetoric, partisan wrangling and political divide this year, we aren’t discussing what should be the most important issue in any election.

Voter apathy. The nonvoters.

Recent, official results from this June’s primaries in South Carolina illustrate the extent of the disconnect.

According to the S.C. State Election Commission, 565,538 ballots were cast. At the time, there were 3,317,605 registered voters. That’s a 17.05 percent turnout.

More than four of every five registered voters didn’t go to the polls. 

And not everyone who is eligible to register, actually does. So the actual participation rate in choosing our elected leaders is further embarrassing.

To be sure, voter turnout increases in a presidential election year, and there were uncontested local races in June. Local elections, though, are the crux of local and state government, whose members set certain taxes, pay teachers, decide zoning issues and regulate businesses. 

In the Republican primary for governor, 368,005 votes were cast. On the Democratic side, 181,590 people voted.  

Since I first wrote about voter apathy for the Dayton Daily News in Ohio four decades ago, I continue to be dismayed at how few people vote. Low turnout gives special interest groups the upper hand because they mobilize their supporters, who in turn support their own causes or candidates. Special interests aren’t bad. But the result is a very narrow audience is making decisions that affect all of us. 

Consider these figures from June, with all 46 South Carolina counties reporting:

Turnout was 10.51 percent in Greenwood, 11.13 percent in York and 11.82 percent in Aiken.

Only one county – Hampton – had more than 38 percent. Greenville’s turnout was 14.42 percent, Richland’s 14.7 percent, and Charleston’s 20.93.

Overall turnout in the subsequent runoffs was even lower: 6.76 percent

To be sure, there’s a lot we’re concerned about.      

The final reading of the University of Michigan’s surveys confirmed the early-June decline in consumer sentiment, settling 0.2 Index points below the preliminary reading and 14.4 percent below May for the lowest reading on record. 

Consumers across income, age, education, geographic region, political affiliation, and homeownership status all posted large declines. About 79 percent of consumers expected bad times in the year ahead for business conditions, the highest since 2009. 

Inflation continued to be of paramount concern to consumers; 47 percent of consumers blamed inflation for eroding their living standards, just one point shy of the all-time high last reached during the Great Recession.

In addition, The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index decreased in June, following a decline in May. The Index fell to 98.7 — down 4.5 points from 103.2 in May — and now stands at its lowest level since February 2021.

The Expectations Index — based on consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions — decreased sharply to 66.4 from 73.7 and is at its lowest level since March 2013. 

Meanwhile, the 38 percent of U.S. adults who said they are “extremely proud” to be American is the lowest in Gallup’s trend, which began in 2001. Still, together with the 27 percent who are “very proud,” 65 percent of U.S. adults expressed pride in the nation. Another 22 percent say they are “moderately proud,” while nine percent are “only a little” and 4 percent “not at all” proud.

Gallup said the record-low level of extreme national pride comes at a challenging time in the U.S. as a pandemic-weary public is struggling with the highest U.S. inflation rate in more than four decades. The data were from a June 1-20 poll that was conducted after mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, claimed 31 lives, including 19 children. Bipartisan gun legislation in response to the shootings was passed shortly after the poll ended. The polling also preceded the U.S. Supreme Court’s highly anticipated and controversial ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

Before 2015, no fewer than 55 percent of U.S. adults said they were extremely proud. The highest readings followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when patriotism surged in the U.S.

However, extreme national pride in the U.S. has been trending downward since 2015, falling below the majority level in 2018; it is nearly 20 points lower now than it was a decade ago, Gallup said.

Each year, South Carolina holds approximately 300 elections.


South Carolina was the first state to have a statewide voter registration system.

South Carolina was the second state to provide online access to its voter registration database to all county boards of voter registration.

If you are a registered voter and you cannot go to the polls to vote on election day, you may be eligible to vote using an absentee ballot.

Nearly 18,000 poll managers serve throughout South Carolina in a statewide general election. And they do their best to make certain your vote counts.

South Carolina was the first state to have its voter registration application on the Internet.

In July, U.S Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) announced the Youth Voting Rights Act, comprehensive legislation to enforce the Twenty-Sixth Amendment and expand youth access to voting. 

Specifically, the bill would:

Expand voter registration services at public colleges and universities. 

Allow young people in every state to pre-register to vote before turning 18. 

Require institutions of higher education to have on-campus polling places. 

Prohibit durational residency requirements for all federal elections. 

Guarantee that states accept student IDs to meet voter-identification requirements. 

Create a grant program dedicated to youth involvement in elections. 

Gather data on youth voter registration and election participation. 

The Twenty-Sixth Amendment, formally ratified on July 1, 1971, prohibits the denial of the right to vote on account of age for all citizens aged 18 or older. But over 50 years after its ratification, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment’s promise remains unfulfilled, Warren and the bill’s supporters said. 

They said young voters participate in elections at lower rates than older voters, their provisional ballots and mail-in ballots are rejected at disproportionate rates, and they routinely face serious obstacles to voter registration and in-person voting.

So if you’re worried about the future, get involved and vote. There are few, if any, excuses not to.

But if you don’t, don’t complain.

David Dykes is editor of Greenville Business Magazine, Columbia Business Monthly, and Charleston Business Magazine.