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Near-record turnout in South Carolina sets stage for Super Tuesday battles

Turnout for the 2020 primary is on track to match — or even best — 2008’s record.

Voters in Columbia, South Carolina stand in line for early voting on February 27, 2020.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Almost all results are in from Saturday’s South Carolina Democratic primary, and former Vice President Joe Biden has picked up his first win in the race. For South Carolina, there was another milestone: a near-record primary turnout.

With 94 percent of precincts reporting, and the final 6 percent nearly finished with their tallies, South Carolina’s Election Commission has found 524,000 voters cast ballots in Saturday’s primary.

That total would appear to put the state on track to nearly match — or perhaps surpass — the turnout record set during Barack Obama’s first presidential race in 2008, when 532,000 voters participated, according to pollster and political analyst John Couvillon.

The precincts that are still reporting include Richland and Charleston counties, home to Columbia and Charleston, the most populous cities in the state. Their results could bump turnout into record-making territory.

Biden received almost half of all ballots cast on Saturday, more than 256,000. His closest rival for vote numbers, Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, has received 104,000 votes, or just under 20 percent of all ballots. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts earned, between them, fewer than 100,000 votes.

Billionaire Tom Steyer, who dropped out on Saturday night after his all-in-for-South-Carolina strategy failed to yield the results he had hoped for, picked up just under 60,000 votes. That was almost four percentage points shy of the 15 percent needed for him to leave the state with any delegates.

The size of the electorate this year in South Carolina should allay early concerns about turnout among Democrats following disappointing turnouts in Iowa’s caucuses. Although some Democrats were wringing their hands about Iowa turnout, turnout has been strong — in fact, increasingly so — in each contest since.

In New Hampshire, a total of 300,622 ballots were cast, besting the previous record of 288,672 votes in 2008. And in the Nevada caucuses, the early turnout alone nearly beat the total turnout for 2016; all told, almost 100,000 people caucused.

This suggests a significant investment from Democratic voters in this year’s election, a push that was somewhat foretold during the 2018 midterm season, which saw record turnout for non-presidential-year voting.

These turnout numbers also set the stage for a robust Super Tuesday fight, when the country’s most populous states — Texas and California — will be among the 14 states to cast ballots.

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