Long lines, busy elections officials in Dorchester County

(Matthew LeBlanc/WCIV)

By Matthew

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. - Tucked away in an office, behind a closed door inside the Dorchester County Public Works building off Highway 78, Joshua Dickard fields phone calls.

He's been here all day. And he'll be here late into the night.

Dickard is the county's executive director of the board of elections. The phone has been ringing non-stop Tuesday.

"I would let the elections clerk handle that," Dickard tells a caller.

Just outside Dickard's office, there is a stack of pizza boxes - evidence that few in the office have had time to stop today, let alone grab a meal.

In between fielding phone calls of his own, Assistant Executive Director of the Board of Elections Todd Billman says the busyness of the day was expected. It's Election Day.

Dorchester County was prepared, Billman said.

There have been few complaints from callers, according to both Dickard and Billman. Most of the calls have been simple questions about voting protocol, how to get the electronic voting machines up-and-running, etc.

A few people have called to complain about long lines at the polls.

"In some countries, people die (trying to vote),", Dickard says.

The presidential election in 2008 was worse, they say. Long lines. Confusion.

But since then, changes have been made. Dickard said each of the county's 74 polling precincts have now been outfitted with electronic voting machines. He said many polling places were made smaller after the election in '08 to speed up lines on Election Day.

Out at one of the county's busiest polling places - Beech Hill Elementary School - the lines are long, but no one's complaining.

James Newell sat just inside the door of the school at 5p.m. Tuesday. He arrived there at 4:30 p.m. with his wife.

They showed up to vote at 10 a.m. and noon, too. The lines were just too long at those times, he said.

"This is a lot more than I expected," said Newell, referring to voter turnout.

Dorchester County elections officials estimated that some polling places had seen nearly 60 percent of registered voters cast ballots, as of 4:30 p.m.

Poll worker Janice Duncan pointed voters toward the line at the elementary school Tuesday afternoon. This is the third presidential election she has worked the polls.

"We have had an awesome, awesome turnout," she said as she held the door open for voters. "America got up and did their part."

And voters continued to show up.

There were few places to park at the school late Tuesday afternoon. Vehicles were parked on the lawn, in front of the school's entrance sign.

Near the sign, two girls sat waving at cars and pointing to a Yes4Schools sign just in front of them.

The girls - both seniors at Ashley Ridge High School - volunteered to work a three-hour shift to encourage voters to support a nearly $180 million referendum on the ballot in Dorchester County that would allow the school district to build new schools and renovate others.

Temperatures were in the low 50's at 4 p.m., when the girls' shift started. Why were they out there?

"If we don't have money put into the school system, we're not going to thrive," said Kathleen Crotty, 17.

"In order to have a healthy community, you need healthy schools," said Kathleen's counterpart, Bridget Couch, 17.

The referendum has drawn controversy in Dorchester County, where supporters say school overcrowding has made upgrades and new schools a necessity.

The measure has its detractors, however, who argue they can't afford an increase in property tax rates in such an unstable economic time.

For several voters at Beech Hill Elementary Tuesday, the schools referendum was secondary. Many polled upon casting ballots said they came out simply to vote for president.

That was the case for Newell, who said so while he waited for his wife to wind her way through the long line and cast her ballot.