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Nikki Haley challenges Donald Trump in South Carolina primary Saturday

Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley addresses supporters at the Embassy Suites in North Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 24. File Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI
1 of 2 | Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley addresses supporters at the Embassy Suites in North Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 24. File Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Voters in South Carolina are next in line to voice their preference for the Republican presidential nomination, choosing between their former governor, Nikki Haley, and former President Donald Trump.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. EST across South Carolina's 46 counties. It is an open primary, meaning voters do not need to be registered Republicans to participate. However, they are not allowed to vote if they participated in the Democratic primary earlier this month.

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Turnout for the Democratic primary was about 4% among more than 3.2 million voters. Participation in either presidential primary does not prohibit voters from voting in a different party's primary in June when state offices are on the ballot. It also does not impact the ability to vote for either party in the general election in November.

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Early voting in the Republican primary ends at 6 p.m. EST Thursday.

Trump has secured 63 delegates for the nomination by earning a majority of votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Haley has 17 delegates but did not participate in the Nevada caucus.

Despite the early deficit, Haley has vowed to remain in the race, no matter the outcome of Saturday's primary in her home state.

South Carolina primaries and elections are conducted by state and county election boards. Conway Belangia, director of voter registration and elections for Greenville County, told UPI his county will have about 1,000 poll workers on duty Saturday.

Greenville County has a population of more than 500,000. It will open 144 polling locations for Saturday's vote.

Poll workers will report to their assigned locations at about 6 a.m. EST. Most of them will be working until about 9 p.m. One election clerk from each precinct will deliver all ballots to the county election center, where they will be tabulated and securely stored.

Belangia said conducting the primary costs the state about $1.2 million. The same was true for the Democratic primary. He adds that it is common practice for South Carolina to hold Republican and Democratic primaries on separate dates.

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"There's a strong economic advantage to being separate from the Super Tuesday process," Belangia said of the March 5 date when 15 other states will vote. "South Carolina gets a lot of coverage that on a national level they would not touch if they were part of the Super Tuesday process."

Belangia predicts the voter turnout will greatly exceed that of the Democratic primary, due to the more contested race between Haley and Trump. He said 30% voter turnout is common in a primary and as much as 40% could be achieved this time.

In Charleston County, Haley's home county, more than 17,500 early votes had been cast by Thursday, according to Isaac Cramer, executive director of the county board of elections. Early voting is new for South Carolina after being passed by the state legislature in 2022. Cramer told UPI it has been popular so far.

"It's very evident, even in a Republican state, early voting is popular," Cramer said. "The early voting turnout we've had, we've gotten 5,000 more votes than we had in the entire Democratic primary."

Cramer expects up to 70,000 votes to be cast in Charleston County, including early and absentee votes.

Seven candidates will appear on the ballot, including some who have withdrawn from the race. There are also three "yes" or "no" questions.

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The first asks voters if South Carolina should change state law to allow voters to register with a political party. The second is related to steps that may reduce conflicts of interest when electing judges. The third is related to how financial damages are paid in lawsuits.

"They put hot ticket items out there hoping to encourage people to participate," Belangia said.

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