Voters go to polls after absentees hit record

The state Election Commission said about 367,500 people had voted absentee by 2:15 p.m. Monday.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH/AP) -- South Carolina voters go to the polls to select their picks for president, Congress and the Legislature, plus decide whether future governors can choose their running mate.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Republican Mitt Romney is expected to handily win South Carolina's nine electoral votes.

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The winner of the new 7th congressional district could be the only change to South Carolina's U.S. House delegation. The state's four freshmen congressmen face foes with little cash in heavily conservative districts. Three of the Democratic challengers are in their first political race. The state's lone Democratic congressman, Rep. Jim Clyburn, is expected to trounce a Green Party opponent, while Rep. Joe Wilson faces no opposition at all.

Only a half-dozen legislators face strong opposition.

Officials advise voters to bring either a voter registration card, South Carolina drivers license or DMV issued identifiation card; along with plenty of time and patience.

In the capital city of Columbia and Richland County, voters waited several hours in long lines. Whitmire said everyone in line by 7 p.m. will be allowed to vote. Polls opened at 7 a.m.

"We waited four hours," said Tasha Martin, 32, a counselor voting at Ridge View High School in northeast Columbia. "About three of the eight machines were down."

Martin said she had waited about 90 minutes to vote at the same site in 2008, but the delay didn't deter anyone. "Everyone waited to vote," she said.

Voters across the river in Lexington County reported no problems at their polling sites.

Richland County spokeswoman Stephany Snowden said the county has gotten complaints about too few voting machines and long waits, but she says the number of machines is the same as in 2008.

"This is by all accounts a record turnout," Snowden said.

Snowden said the county has 124 precincts and about 1,000 machines, and that there were 17 technicians out attempting to repair broken voting machine.

Snowden said she could not estimate exactly how many machines might be broken or causing delays.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. following a record number of absentee voters.

About 376,000 South Carolinians had voted absentee by late Monday afternoon, surpassing the previous high set in 2008 by more than 33,000 voters. The final tally of mailed and in-person absentee ballots could top 400,000.

Long lines were seen at some precincts in Columbia 30 minutes before the polls opened early Tuesday. At several schools, lines of voters were allowed to snake through interior hallways because temperatures were unseasonably cool in the low 40s as voters arrived to cast ballots.

Columbia music store owner Tim Smith, 52, said he voted for President Barack Obama because "he saved my business after the crash in 2008."

"I'm a small businessman and I am very supportive of the president," Smith said.

Smith said he voted against the idea of having a governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket because, "I'd like each candidate to stand on their own, to keep some separation."

John Holler, 65, the head of a local children's home, said he backs Romney for a simple reason. "It's the economy, that's the top issue for me," the life-long Columbia resident said.

Holler said he's in favor of the top two state offices being held by people of like political attitudes.

"I'm for change there. I think it's better if folks are aligned. Otherwise, there's no team there, there's too much counter promotion" if the two don't work together, Holler said.

Despite the pre-Election Day enthusiasm, few ballot races are nail-biters.

Republican Mitt Romney was expected to handily win South Carolina's nine electoral votes in the presidential contest.

The winner of the new 7th Congressional District could be the only change to South Carolina's U.S. House delegation. Republican Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice and Democratic Coastal Carolina University professor Gloria Bromell Tinubu are vying to represent the district that includes the Pee Dee region and northern coastline.

The state's four freshmen Republican congressmen face foes with little cash in heavily conservative districts. Three of the Democratic challengers are in their first political race.

The state's lone Democratic congressman, 20-year veteran Rep. Jim Clyburn, was expected to trounce a Green Party opponent in the state's majority-minority 6th District. Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, first sent to Congress in a 2001 special election, faces no opposition at all in the 2nd District.

All House and Senate seats are up for election this year. Of the 170 seats, fewer than 20 are considered competitive. Both the House and Senate will retain their Republican majorities.

Only a half dozen incumbent legislators are believed to face strong opposition from a Republican or Democratic foe. Several more incumbents are in rare competitive races against petition candidates, following a primary season in which nearly 250 candidates statewide were tossed from June ballots. Seventy of those were booted from legislative races.

The decertification was the result of back-to-back state Supreme Court rulings on improperly filed candidacy paperwork, due to confusion over a 2010 change in the law. The ensuing ballot chaos left decertified candidates with only one way to get on November ballots: a tedious, little-used paper process that requires gathering the signatures of at least 5 percent of a district's registered voters.

The biggest obstacle to petition candidates is straight-party voting. Anyone who votes along a party line would bypass those candidates completely. In 2008 and 2010, half of all voters chose the straight-party option.

Regardless, a record number of petition candidates are guaranteed to win. In five House races, petition candidates are the only ones on the ballot. The last time a petition candidate won state office was 1990, for a House seat.

There is a single constitutional referendum on the ballot.

Voters will decide whether the governor and lieutenant governor should run on the same ticket starting in 2018. Voters who choose "yes" are saying they want the state's governor and lieutenant governor to run together and for the state Senate to elect its own presiding officer, meaning the lieutenant governor would no longer preside over the chamber.

Voter registration has also hit a new high, with 2.9 million people registered by Nov. 2. That's an additional 323,000 potential voters for this presidential election, compared with four years ago. In 2008, 76 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.

Broken down by race, 69 percent of South Carolina's registered voters are white, 29 percent are black, and 1 percent is Hispanic.

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(The Associated Press Contributed to this report.)

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