Fox News correspondent Bryan Llenas reports from Columbia, South Carolina.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The top two South Carolina Democratic Party officials say turnout in Saturday’s presidential primary will be “substantially higher” than their original estimate and will probably approach the record high set in 2008.

“I think it’s going to be higher than I originally anticipated,” state party Chairman Trav Robertson told Fox News during a news conference with reporters in Columbia on Saturday.


“I originally thought you’d see somewhere between 289,000 and 350,000. I think it’s going to be substantially higher than that,” he said.

Executive director Jay Parmley told reporters “we’ve very confident we’ll exceed 2016 numbers and probably approaching the high, which was 2008.”

Roughly 370,000 people voted in the 2016 primary, when eventual nominee Hillary Clinton trounced Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont by a nearly three-to-one margin.

Some 540,000 voted in the 2008 Democratic primary, when then-Sen. Barack Obama crushed then-Sen. Clinton by 30 points, with John Edwards in third place.

Asked by Fox News which candidates this likely surge in turnout will help, Robertson didn’t directly answer, instead saying “that depends on which candidates got their team on the ground doing GOTV. This is all about the campaigns turning out their voters, those yeses, and those undecideds they’ve convinced.”

A polling station sign in Columbia, South Carolina, on presidential primary day, Feb. 29, 2020

The expected boost in turnout is partially due to an increase in absentee ballots already cast. Citing new figures from state election officials (the presidential primary in South Carolina’s conducted by the state), Robertson said “we’re right under 80,000 absentee ballots cast. That is a significant increase from 2016 as well as 2018. That’s up 28,000-30,000 ballots from 2016. … In the past, absentee balloting has always been an early indicator of what turnout is going to be in South Carolina.”

And pointing to the large role black voters play in the state’s Democratic presidential primary, he noted that “we anticipate that a significant number of non-white voters will make up anywhere from 55 to 62-63 percent of the electorate.

“We think that will play a significant role in today’s turnout.,” Robertson said.

Earlier this month a new record high turnout was recorded in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary.


Parmley addressed what’s being dubbed Operation Chaos 2020, a move by some South Carolina conservative activists who are urging Republicans to vote in Saturday’s Democratic primary and cast a ballot for Sen. Bernie Sanders as a way to help President Trump. Many on the right see Sanders – a self-described democratic socialist – as a weak general election candidate to challenge Trump.

South Carolina has an open primary system, where anybody of either party or independent voters can cast a ballot in either the Democratic or Republican primaries. But the Republicans in the state scrapped their presidential primary and formally backed Trump’s re-election, so all the action this cycle’s in the Democratic primary.

Parmley said “we have not seen — at least in the absentee data — any mass evidence of Republicans infiltrating, if you will, our primary – which is perfectly legal. Any South Carolina voter can cast a ballot today.”

“Only 2,500 that have voted by absentee ballot have voted in multiple Republican primaries in the past,” he added. “We’re not seeing yet, this kind of widespread Republican participation.”

Fox News’ Mitti Hicks contributed to this report. 

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