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      Voters taking advantage of absentee ballot to vote early

      By Mike Wadsworthmwadsworth@wciv.com

      CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - There are two weeks until the 2012 Presidential Election, and voters in Charleston County are getting out to vote early in a state where you can't vote early.

      The state of South Carolina does not allow early voting, but absentee ballot regulations allow between 32,000 and 34,000 votes to be cast before the November 6 Election Day in Charleston County alone, based on numbers from the 2008 election.

      Dozens of voters came out to cast their absentee ballots on Monday. The majority reason? - To avoid the waiting game and hassle of lines on Election Day.

      "It's wonderful to be able to do this. I'm 67 years old," said Martha Barkley of North Charleston. "This is easier, I don't want to wait in lines."

      "We're all over 65, old as dirt," said Tommie Robertson from Charleston. "We want to avoid the lines. The last national election we were in line for a long, long time."

      Being over the age of 65 is one criterion that makes one eligible for an absentee ballot, and there are several more criteria that broaden the spectrum of qualified voters for absentee ballots. Here are a few:

      • Persons who, for reasons of employment, will not be able to vote on Election Day
      • Physically disabled persons
      • Persons who plan to be on vacation outside their county of residence on Election Day

      You can see the entire list of qualifications HERE.

      So what's the difference between early voting and absentee voting?

      Early voting would be just like going to the polling place. One would sign in and then go vote. Each absentee voter must fill out a printed application that gives a reason for the absentee ballot and has a signature and date.

      "It'd be a little quicker for checking in and going to the machines," said Executive Director for the Board of Elections and Voter Registration in Charleston County, Joseph Debney.

      Debney says 4,488 people have come in person to vote absentee as of Monday afternoon, and another 12,681 ballots have been received by mail. According to Debney, the numbers increase the most in the two weeks before Election Day, indicating absentee numbers this year could exceed high numbers from 2008.

      "I'll tell you this, when I was director in Dorchester County, which has more Republicans than Democrats, they wanted [early voting] there, and I think you hear that across the state," said Debney.

      "We get a lot of phone calls asking why we don't have it," he said.

      And Debney's response to that question from Charleston County residents?

      "Call your legislator," says Debney.

      While legislation doesn't allow early voting just yet in South Carolina, residents are still getting to the poles to cast their vote before November 6.

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