SC Politics

South Carolina Runoff Races: Nobody Voted

Turnout takes another nose dive in the Palmetto State …

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Last month, I lamented the anemic voter turnout during the June 11, 2024 partisan primary elections in South Carolina. In that column, I noted how only 439,766 of the Palmetto State’s 3.2 million registered voters participated in these pivotal races.

That’s a paltry 13.59 percent participation rate – although it was positively robust compared to the atrocious turnout seen two weeks later in the June 25, 2024 partisan runoff elections.

In South Carolina partisan primaries, candidates who fail to receive a majority of votes on the first ballot must go head-to-head against the second-place finisher in a runoff election two weeks later. This year, partisan runoffs were held in twenty-five of the Palmetto State’s forty-six counties. Of the 1.5 million people registered to vote in those races, only 87,326 bothered to show up at the polls. For those of you doing the math at home, that’s a staggeringly low 5.85 percent participation rate.

While not quite as bad as 2020’s atrocious 2.83 percent runoff reading, last month’s turnout was well below the level seen in 2018 – when a competitive Republican runoff in the governor’s race sparked a “surge” of interest. In that election, 12.65 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. Six years earlier, a competitive congressional runoff in the Palmetto State’s newly drawn seventh congressional district yielded a 13.3 percent participation rate.

Sadly, these totals represent the high-water marks for voter participation in recent runoffs.

Weak, right? Indeed …

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The irony? Partisan primary elections and runoffs are where the vast majority of competitive races are decided in South Carolina. General elections – the ones everybody votes in – are foregone conclusions. Choices in name only.

During the last general election in 2022, “Republicans” won all eight statewide constitutional offices – including four races in which Democrats failed to even nominate a candidate. The closest the perpetual minority party got to winning a statewide office? The race for superintendent of education – in which the Democratic nominee lost by 15.9 percent.

Democrats haven’t won a statewide primary election since 2006 – which means if you care who your governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, comptroller, superintendent, secretary of state or agriculture commissioner is, you should probably be voting in the GOP primary.

At the congressional level, all seven races during the last cycle were over before they began – with the closest race being the campaign for the “competitive” first congressional district. There, incumbent Nancy Mace defeated Democrat Annie Andrews by 13.9 percent.

Of course these districts – which critics claim favor the GOP – were actually drawn by a Democrat. One who then turned around and insisted they were racist.

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RELATED | WHAT IF YOU HELD AN ELECTION AND NO ONE SHOWED UP?

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In the state legislature, it’s even worse …

More than half of incumbent lawmakers in the S.C. House of Representatives – Republicans and Democrats – ran unopposed in the 2022 general election. Those who were challenged faced mostly token opposition. In fact, of the 124 seats in the chamber only eight featured elections which were decided by ten or fewer percentage points during the last general election.

Up and down the ballot there is a definitional lack of competitiveness, people. And it’s getting worse, not better.

What gives? At the root of the problem is politicians drawing their own political borders.

“Republicans and Democrats in South Carolina continue to draw legislative districts that insulate incumbents – denying voters real choices at the ballot box,” I wrote in a 2018 column. “Not surprisingly, this lack of choice leads to a lack of accountability – which leads to a lack of progress on a host of fronts.”

And apparently a lack of interest, as well.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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1 comment

AC Top fan July 8, 2024 at 7:17 am

It would also help to make party registration mandatory. It will probably never get done as it would subject many of the RINOs in the legislature to the spectre of actually losing since a good number of them live in areas where they rely on democrats to vote for them. I’m sure the winning margin of votes garnered by Timmons came from his liberal country club buddies who vote Democrat unless it’s one of their pals, same for Knox White and others from the downtown Greenville area

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