South Carolina, a best practice case study for military and overseas voters

South Carolina just finished their primary election cycle, and thanks to recent changes in their absentee voting policies brought about by the passage of a state IRV bill this past legislative session, previously disenfranchised uniformed and overseas voters got a better chance to have their voices heard via a special instant runoff ballot.

This ballot was mailed out with the regular primary absentee ballot. Uniformed and overseas voters were given the option to rank their candidate preferences on the special IRV ballot in advance so that in the case of a runoff they would not have to worry that their runoff ballots might arrive to late to fill out, get returned in the mail, and be counted.


Study Abstract July 24th, 2006

Early results from South Carolina indicate that this program has been very successful. More than 70% of UOCAVA voters submitted ballots for both the primary and runoff. Runoffs were required this year in a statewide Republican election for lieutenant governor and for some Democratic state legislative and local elections. In the past, very few UOCAVA voters were able to participate in such runoffs because of the election schedule.

Of the IRV ballots submitted in the 24 counties where FairVote has obtained information, 94% of ballots cast for a runoff were valid and counted, showing high comprehension of the new system. In the eight counties where both Democratic and Republican voters had runoff elections, the valid ballot rate in the runoff count was fully 100% -- with all 62 of these voters casting valid ballots.

Election administrators also are positive about the new system. David Alford, Director of Colleton County elections, noted that there were no phone calls or reported problems with the instant runoff ballots. Mr. Alford believes that the state's clear instructions paid off, as all instant runoff ballots in his county were sent back without voter error. Altogether, he thinks that the new runoff ballots are "a well thought-of solution to the short window problem."

FairVote drafted a phone survey, which we then used as a basis for calls to local election administrators in counties whose primary results mandated a second "run-off" election be held to arrive to the Democratic or Republican nominee. The phone survey consisted of the following set of questions:

  • Was a runoff conducted for either party? = REP *** DEM *** REP & DEM
  • Who qualifies to use IRV? Overseas Military Only *** All Military *** UOCAVA Voters
  • Could a UOCAVA vote in the primary runoff election if they did not vote in the original primary election
    Yes, UOCAVA Can Vote In Runoff w/o Voting in Primary *** No, Soldier Must Vote in Primary
  • Could the absentee & IRV ballots be submitted separately or must they be returned collectively?
  • How many sets of special absentee ballots were mailed out by your office? _____________ #
  • How many UOCAVA voters returned the absentee ballot part of the set for the primary? = _____________
  • How many IRV ballots were returned for the primary runoff? _____________
  • Out of the IRV ballots, how many were validated and could be counted? _____________
  • How does military absentee personnel voter participation compare to that of the primaries in 2004?
  • For the most recent federal primary, by what date were absentee ballots mailed overseas? ____________
  • The primary runoff election was held on XXXX, what was the absolute last day(specific date) to return a ballot to ensure it will be counted in the election? _______________
  • Were directions enclosed to instruct UOCAVA voters on how to use the ballots? _____
  • Who provided you with guidance on the protocols associated with the new ballots?
  • On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being least helpful and 10 being most helpful, how would you rate the training/ preparation you received? __________

In our analysis of the data we gathered from our conversations with local officials, we used the following formulas:

IRV Comprehension Rate= # IRV ballots valid in election /# IRV ballots returned

(Note: This told us the level of understanding the voter had who opted to fill out the special IRV ballot to ensure their vote was counted in the case a runoff was necessary. Variation in comprehension rates from state to state indicated that careful ballot design and clear voter guide instructions were key).

Runoff Participation Rate= # IRV ballots returned /# regular UOCAVA absentee ballots returned

(Note: This formula enables us to test our hypothesis that states who elect to send their UOCAVA voters IRV ballots raise the odds of runoff election participation of this normally completely shut out demographic of voters).

[SC bill passed, see FV press release]
[ Read Text of HB 3720 (.doc) ]
[SC voter guide update]
[See the spreadsheet for data on participation & comprehension rates]