Across the Midlands Tuesday, citizens exercised their civic duty and went to the polls to cast votes for South Carolina governor and other top state and federal offices.
There were long lines in some places and some malfunctioning voting machines as voters contemplated a change in the way the state chooses the state education secretary and selected local school board members, among other ballot issues.
This year will be the first time that candidates running for S.C. governor and lieutenant governor were on the same ticket. Democrat James Smith, a longtime representative in the S.C. House, is seeking to unseat Gov. Henry McMaster, who is hoping for a full four-year term. He became governor in 2016 when former Gov. Nikki Haley was tapped by President Trump to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
An important topic on the ballot this year is the constitutional amendment regarding the selection of South Carolina’s superintendent of education. With a yes vote, the state superintendent will become an appointed position in the governor’s cabinet starting in 2023. With a no vote, the position will continue to be elected.
Current state Superintendent Molly Spearman, who is running unopposed, supports the amendment and could possibly be the last person elected into the position.
All of the state’s constitutional offices and House of Representatives seats are up for election, with 69 of the 124 seats running unopposed.
Congressional watchers are keeping an eye on the 1st Congressional District. Former Gov. Mark Sanford lost his bid for a third term in the June primary after criticism from President Trump. The seat is now the center of a heated race between Democrat Joe Cunningham and Republican Katie Arrington.
Many political observers saw the midterm election as a referendum on President Trump and a bellwether for the 2020 presidential election.
Here are snapshots from precincts around the Midlands:
Teaching the next generation
It was not a hard decision for 66-year-old Sharon Bates to head to the voting polls early Tuesday morning.
“I grew up always voting,” Bates said. “It was something my parents impressed upon us when we were very young.” The retired teacher decided to bring her young grandson with her to teach him the importance of voting.
“I want him to learn what the importance of making a change is, especially when he grows up and can make decisions on his own,” she said. She also hoped to make a change in Washington by voting a Democratic ticket.
Rain won’t keep her away
A rainy Tuesday morning didn’t stop Diane Hartness, a teacher at Newberry High School, from voting for change.
“I don’t miss an election,” Hartness said. “It is our right and responsibility to have some say who governs our state.”
She said she doesn’t agree with the policies that are coming from the federal level. “I think they’re going to hurt our state in the long run,” Hartness said.
Hartness was excited to cast her vote for Democrat James Smith for governor since he has been her representative in the S.C. House for a number of years.
Don’t vote, don’t have an excuse
For retired Marine Larry Forta, getting to the polls on Tuesday wasn’t an issue. Forta has voted throughout his life and his precinct at Shady Grove Methodist Church had plenty of parking.
This time however, Forta had a big reason to get out and vote.
“If you don’t vote, you don’t have an excuse,” Forta said. “I hope that my vote will sort of put a hole in Trump’s people.”
Forta was in the Marine Corps for 20 years before moving to Ballentine. In years past, the Ballentine area has had difficulties with voting efficiency. One year, people stood outside of the local high school from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to vote.
“It was a long day,” Forta recalled. “I stood out there for six hours in line. You want to stand in line to vote, but a lot of people left. We were there all day.”
Protesting Trump policies
Donald Ellisor, a 65-year-old retiree who lives in Lexington, is short and to-the-point about why he’s motivated to vote.
“I just don’t like Trump,” Ellisor said.
He stood in line at Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church around 11 a.m., where the wait time was about 30 minutes. As people arrived to the church, many looked inside and vowed to return after “getting breakfast” and “when the line [wasn’t] so long.”
Ellisor had no reservations about speaking his mind on the political state of affairs in South Carolina and the United States. His discontent lay primarily with taxes, and he said the government is “going in the wrong direction.”
“You don’t cut taxes when you got a deficit, and then the next year you come and want to reduce spending because you cut taxes the year before,” said Ellisor.
Ellisor hopes his vote will help make lawmakers “get off their butts and do something, instead of just sitting there and saying ‘I haven’t raised taxes.’”
“I want a better government.”
For the fairness of all voters
Andy Yasinsac, a 75-year-old retired environmental engineer, woke up before 5 a.m. on Tuesday to work at his local polling place, Brockman Elementary School in Forest Acres, for the fourth year in a row.
Yasinsac thought it would be in poor taste for a poll worker to discuss his own political views, but he said some voters are concerned about the decisiveness of today’s politicians.
He also said the reason he comes out to work the polls is to help prevent any voter suppression.
“I want to make sure that all the voters are treated fairly,” Yasinsac said. “And everyone that has a basis to vote is given an opportunity to vote and is not turned away for bogus reasons.”
Republican across the board
Troy Ott happily waited his turn to vote at Kilbourne Baptist Church late Tuesday morning.
The 53-year-old real estate broker’s reasoning for doing his civic duty is simple.
“Keep the economy going strong, less regulations, lower taxes.”
Ott is self-employed and said it’s important for S.C. to have a good “business climate” across the board. A staunch Republican, Ott said he supported President Trump in 2016. He also expressed support for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, saying that the recent hearings deciding the judge’s position were a disgrace.
“It confirmed my beliefs about the opposition,” Ott said with a chuckle.
Changing the vote
“This is a very red precinct, but we do exist,” said Beth Barry, a health education consultant and Columbia resident who leans left politically, as she waited to vote at Kilbourne Baptist Church.
Barry, 60, is the senior program manager for the nonprofit Alliance for Healthier Generations’ “healthy schools” program.
Raised a Republican, Barry said she voted for the late President Ronald Reagan in her first election, but now she’s looking to swing the other way because she sees America going “backward.”
Barry doesn’t see a wave of blue votes in the Palmetto State’s near future, but she is hopeful that residents want to have civil discourse and work together.
“I believe we’ve got to address inequities in health, economics, housing and I’m very motivated about healthcare for all,” said Barry. “I think people forget that most of us are descendants of immigrants, and the whole ‘Give me your tired and your poor,’ what happened to that?”
Inspiring the younger generation
Poll manager Marilyn Summers has some experience when it comes to election day. Summers, 76, has been a poll manager for 40 years and says she has a tie to the community of Briarwood, which has been her home since 1966.
Summers’ hope is to inspire younger voters, like her two high-school aged grandchildren, to participate today.
“On the news last night, they were talking about how we’ve got to recruit younger people, and I was like ‘yes we do’,” said Summers.
For future generations
For Nadine Edney, 56, the call to vote stems from the reality that there are big changes coming for her young grandchildren. Edney is a Briarwood resident and brought her grandson with her to E.L. Wright Middle School to cast her vote.
“Because it’s important,” Edney said. “We have to be heard.”
Board member voting for education
Richland 2 School Board member Cheryl Caution-Parker stood outside of Dent Middle School Tuesday campaigning for her re-election to the school board. Caution-Parker also put in a good word for the proposed $468 million Richland 2 school bond referendum, which was also on the ballot. The proposal would fund improvements in safety, security, and transportation, and she sees that as a positive move for the district.
“There’s nothing worse than when you have a governor who’s focused in one direction on education and the state superintendent of education focused in another direction,” said Caution-Parker. “To me in that kind of situation, very little is accomplished.”
Caution-Parker has an emotional tie to the Dentsville area after previously serving as Dent Middle School’s principal.
A drive to vote
Garrick Turner came to the polls to vote in the midterm elections but lamented he had not done as much research as he would have liked on the school board candidates who were on the ballot.
But he said the drive to vote is what brought him to the polls Tuesday.
“I typically do vote in midterm elections; I really do make a point of it,” said Turner.
Going to shambles
The line at Richland County Voter Registration and Elections was out the door and close to spilling into the street, but that didn’t hinder 74-year-old former Rep. Frank McBride from casting his vote. He said he has never missed an election.
“It’s very important that you vote. People died for that,” McBride said.
McBride, a lawmaker who spent 10 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to involvement in Operation Lost Trust in 1991, said he wants “Trump out of that White House.”
“The main thing we have got to change is the mold of this country,” McBride said. “This country is going to shambles, and it’s going to be something worse than that if change isn’t made 500 miles up that road.”
Voting for education
For Brock Dillard, 47, voting in this election was a way to keep the country moving in what he sees as the right direction.
“I’m an independent voter; I don’t pull for one party or the other, but I do really like the way the country is going now economically,” said Dillard. “I like the way that it’s going and I want that to continue.”
The Alabama native, who works in medical sales, voted at Dreher High School for Gov. Henry McMaster and his lieutenant governor running mate Pam Evette. With two children currently attending Dreher, he also felt it was important to vote for Jackie Barker for Richland One School Board.
He feels that the McMaster-Evette ticket will support his views on immigration, another key issue for Dillard.
“I do believe that every person has the right to come to the U.S. but I think they need to do it by legal means,” said Dillard. “I don’t think anybody should sidestep the rules that have been in place for hundreds of years.”
Back to America’s roots
Deborah Howell, a 66-year-old Columbia native who voted for Democrat James Smith at the Lourie Center, cast her ballot in hopes of changing the current political climate – one that she sees as frighteningly reminiscent of the political tensions that was taking place during her teen years.
“I was a teenager in the 1960’s when the Vietnam War was going on and when so many of our leaders were being gunned down and I remember that feeling of unrest form that time,” said Howell.
“Today so many of those feelings are being brought back. It’s like we’ve lost ourselves and we don’t know who we are. I have been praying that we will come back to being people who care about one another.”
Howell cares about issues that she feels has to do with returning America to being “compassionate and moral,” such as healthcare and immigration. She wants to see a decrease in harsh political rhetoric in America, allowing space for respectful discussion and opportunity for those who are in need.
“We need standards and some legality with our borders, but we need to be able to welcome the downtrodden,” said Howell. “We need to return to what America has been known for – being giving, loving, and welcoming to everybody.”
Reporters Bria Barton, Rebecca Brennan, T. Michael Boddie, Turner Harrison, Kelly Ann Krueger, Rachel Pittman, Hannah Slater, and Reema Vaidya contributed to this report.