Will Republicans forgive a South Carolina congressman who voted to impeach Donald Trump? Will Democrats make history with their pick for governor?
Will more people cast ballots early than on Election Day?
All will be reveled June 14, when South Carolina voters head to the polls in this year’s statewide party primaries where they get to have their say in who they want representing them.
This year’s ballot includes a slew of important contests, from the governor’s race down to local races, like who should be Charleston County’s next register of deeds.
Some of these primary matchups could land South Carolina in the national political spotlight, especially the pair of congressional races along the coast that are seen as a critical test of Trump’s continued influence on the Republican Party — and in an early presidential primary state, no less.
But those aren’t the only races worth watching Tuesday. Here’s what you need to know about the South Carolina primaries and how to participate.
Republicans, unfortunately for you, most of the competitive action is solidly on the Democratic ticket.
The two leading candidates for the Democrats’ nomination are former Charleston congressman Joe Cunningham and state Sen. Mia McLeod of Columbia, the first Black woman to run for governor in South Carolina. Three other candidates are also on the ballot, but they’ve struggled to stand out.
McLeod is leaning on her state government experience in the Legislature, while Cunningham is trying to draw a line between his successful 2018 bid for Congress in a reliably Republican district to why he thinks he has the crossover appeal needed for a Democrat to win. McLeod has urged Democrats to “try something different” in voting for her, which would carry historic implications if she wins.
Whoever wins the nomination faces brutal odds come November since the last time a Democrat was elected governor in South Carolina was 24 years ago with Jim Hodges.
The other Democrats on the ballot are Carlton Boyd, a former page in the Legislature who has worked with various state health care agencies, Calvin “CJ Mack” McMillan, a musician and former barber, and William “Cowboy” Williams of Florence, a retired postmaster.
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster faces one GOP primary challenger, activist Harrison Musselwhite, who on the trail calls himself “Trucker Bob.”
This year, all seven of South Carolina’s U.S. House members are up for reelection, but two contests along the coast are getting all the attention: the Charleston-to-Beaufort 1st Congressional District and the Myrtle Beach-to-Florence 7th Congressional District.
Both Republican incumbents are facing challenges from the right flank after Trump called on “good and smart” Republicans to run against them. The former president then flew to Florence, where he held a March 12 rally that sought to boost his preferred candidates and settle political scores.
But the districts and their primary races are distinctly different affairs.
U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, a freshman lawmaker from the Charleston area, is fighting to hold onto her Lowcountry seat in Congress after she became an outspoken Republican following the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. In the aftermath, Mace said the events of that day had “wiped out” Trump’s legacy. She also cast herself as “a new voice for the Republican Party.”
She’s facing a challenge from former state lawmaker Katie Arrington, who landed Trump’s endorsement within 24 hours of jumping into the race earlier this year. Arrington has cast Mace as a “liberal” who “turned her back on us” and on Trump. This is Arrington’s second bid for this seat. In 2018, Arrington defeated U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford in the GOP primary but lost the general election to Cunningham.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, a Myrtle Beach Republican who has represented the 7th District seat since its creation a decade or so ago, is one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. He has defended that vote as “the conservative vote” to defend the U.S. Constitution.
All six of Rice’s primary challengers have cited the impeachment vote as a top reason for getting into the race.
Rice is now facing a tough challenge from state Rep. Russell Fry, a Surfside Beach attorney who won Trump’s endorsement in an area where the former president remains popular. Given the size of the field, a June 28 runoff is widely expected but not guaranteed.
Three Democrats believe they are the best candidate to take on the state’s junior senator, Republican Tim Scott in November.
In what could be a first, all three of the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination are Black women.
Democrats will get to choose between state Rep. Krystle Matthews, D-Ladson; past Spartanburg County Democratic Party Chairwoman Angela Geter; and author and preservationist Catherine Fleming Bruce.
Whoever wins faces a tough road ahead as a Democrat after Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham defeated Democrat Jaime Harrison in a record-shattering, multimillion-dollar 2020 race; it’s doubtful that whoever wins will get significant outside help.
Additionally, Scott is a household name and a rising national star in the Republican Party who is also the Senate’s top Republican fundraiser.
Superintendent of Education
The race to become South Carolina’s next state Superintendent of Education has been a surprisingly dramatic one.
After Molly Spearman chose not to seek a third term as state schools chief, multiple candidates have stepped forward. On the Republican side, six Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination, including Kathy Maness, the executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, and the race’s top fundraiser, Ellen Weaver. The other candidates are Travis Bedson, Bryan Chapman, Kizzi Gibson and Lynda Leventis-Wells.
On the Democratic side, three candidates are in the running for their party’s nomination, including Lisa Ellis, the founder of the grassroots teachers group SC for Ed; former Anderson County superintendent Gary Burgess; and longtime state lawmaker Jerry Govan of Orangeburg.
The Republican field shrank in April after two GOP hopefuls acknowledged they lacked a master’s degree — as required for the post under a 2018 change to state law — and dropped out.
The winners will face each other in November to determine who will be South Carolina’s next public schools chief. Whoever wins will take over the job at a time when school boards and public education have emerged as unlikely political battlegrounds in America’s culture wars, from COVID-19 to critical race theory.
Congress and the state’s constitutional offices aren’t the only nomination races to be decided. Local elections for the state House of Representatives and your local courthouse seats are also being decided. The state Senate is not up this year.
When can I vote?
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. statewide and in all counties. Still standing in line when the polls close? Fear not. You will still be able to cast a ballot.
Also: there are no COVID-19 restrictions in place but you are free to wear a mask in the polling place if you feel the need.
Who can vote in South Carolina’s primary?
South Carolina has an open primary system. This means any registered voter may cast a ballot in either party’s primary — but not both. You must vote either all Republican or all Democratic.
That’s important in case a contest goes to a runoff. For example, if you vote in the Republican primary for governor, you cannot vote in the Democratic primary runoff in the same contest two weeks later.
Candidates must secure more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. If no candidate secures more than 50 percent of support, the top two vote-getters will face off in a June 28 runoff.
Where do I vote?
Your voting precinct and polling place are determined by your address, and should be listed on your voter registration card. To check your voting location, visit the S.C. Election Commission website at scvotes.org. On the homepage, click the tab that says “Voters.” Then, click “Check your voter registration.” You can also contact your county voter registration office directly.
What should I bring to vote?
To vote in the election, you will need one of the following forms of photo ID:
- S.C. driver’s license
- U.S. passport
- Federal military ID
- S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles ID card
- S.C. voter registration card with photo
If you do not have proper photo ID but are registered to vote, you can cast a provisional ballot.
Which races can I vote for?
It all depends on where you live, but even if you haven’t moved, your voting precinct may have.
As a result of the decennial redistricting process, congressional lines have shifted. In the 1st District, some 100,000 people whose addresses had them voting in the 1st District for the past decade will learn they are now 6th District voters.
Before voting, you can view your sample ballot online at scvotes.org. (You can even print it out and take it with you into the voting booth, if you want.) Click the “voters” tab and then select “Check your voter registration.”
When will we know who won?
It all depends on how quickly election officials can tally up the results. The Post and Courier will be covering the races all day and night. Check postandcourier.com for results and analysis.