SC voters pick Romney, record turnout expected

South Carolina voters picked Republican Mitt Romney for president, as expected, amid a record turnout in an election year marked with ballot chaos for local and legislative races.

More South Carolinians likely voted Tuesday than any other time in the state's history, said Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire. Voter registration and absentee voting already have hit new highs over the last presidential election. The percentage of registered voters casting ballots could top the 76 percent high of 2008.

In the Democratic stronghold of Richland County, voting continued well past the 7 p.m. closing of polls, with some precincts reporting waits throughout the day of up to seven hours.

"The passion and dedication of South Carolina citizen for the electoral process was on display at the polls today," said Marci Andino, executive director of the South Carolina State Election Commission. "We're grateful to voters for their patience as they waited to cast their ballots."

Despite the voting enthusiasm, few ballot races were nail-biters.

The winner of the new 7th Congressional District will be the only change to South Carolina's U.S. House delegation, adding a sixth Republican. Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice defeated Democrat Gloria Bromell Tinubu to represent the state's northeastern corner. Tinubu, a Coastal Carolina University professor, resigned from the Georgia Legislature last year to move back to her native South Carolina.

The state's four freshmen Republican congressmen handily defeated foes with little cash in heavily conservative districts.

Reps. Tim Scott, Trey Gowdy, and Mick Mulvaney defeated women running in their first political race. Rep. Jeff Duncan ended a radio talk show host's second bid for the seat.

The state's lone Democratic congressman, 20-year veteran Rep. Jim Clyburn, trounced a Green Party opponent in the state's majority-black 6th District. Republican Rep. Joe Wilson faced no opposition at all in the 2nd District.

All state House and Senate seats were up for election this year. But fewer than 20 of the 170 seats were considered competitive. Both the House and Senate will retain their Republican majorities.

Only a half-dozen incumbent legislators faced strong opposition from a Republican or Democratic foe.

That included Rep. Ted Vick, D-Chesterfield, who won a fifth term in a three-way race, with 46 percent of the vote. Vick dropped out of his bid for the new 7th Congressional District earlier this year after an arrest in downtown Columbia. Republicans had hoped that, along with a petition candidate splitting the vote, could lead to a GOP win in Vick's state House district.

Several more incumbents were 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 decertified candidates had 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.

In one of the most watched petition races, Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, handily won a sixth term against former Rep. Rex Rice, a Republican who got on the ballot via petition. With 94 percent of precincts reporting, he had 65 percent of the vote.

Also in Pickens County, Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Six Mile, beat petition challenger Ed Harris. Skelton lost to Harris in the June primary by 73 votes. But the state GOP chairman decertified Harris, and a judge then voided his candidacy when Harris couldn't produce his paperwork.

The biggest obstacle to petition candidates was straight-party voting. Anyone who voted along a party line bypassed 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 were the only ones on the ballot. The last time a petition candidate won state office was 1990, for a House seat.

There was a single constitutional referendum on the ballot.

Voters said "yes" to the governor and lieutenant governor running on the same ticket starting in 2018. That means gubernatorial nominees will select their running mates, and the state Senate will elect its own presiding officer. The lieutenant governor will no longer preside over that chamber.