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Not just Ohio: Biased language is the hot new tactic to thwart ballot measures

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lailluminator.com – Zachary Roth – 2023-09-04 05:00:30

Not just Ohio: Biased language is the hot new tactic to thwart ballot measures

by Zachary Roth, Louisiana Illuminator
September 4, 2023

Abortion-rights supporters filed a lawsuit Monday against what they call “deceptive” ballot language produced by Ohio officials for the state's closely-watched upcoming referendum on the issue.

But it isn't just the Buckeye State that's lately seeing fierce battles over the once-obscure topic of ballot language.

In recent weeks, officials in Missouri — where another abortion-rights measure is at issue — and Idaho also have been accused in lawsuits of seeking to thwart citizen initiatives they oppose by using biased and negative ballot language to describe the issue to voters. Arkansas last year saw a similar court fight after a state board rejected a proposed ballot measure that had gained the required number of signatures, claiming the ballot language didn't explain the issue in enough detail.

Direct democracy advocates see these language disputes as another tactic in the larger war on ballot initiatives playing out across the country. As States Newsroom has reported, in recent years a slew of states has tried to crack down on ballot measures by imposing more onerous signature requirements or raising the threshold for voter approval above a simple majority, among other steps. It's no coincidence that in all four of the states where controversies over ballot language have flared most prominently, Republican lawmakers have tried other tacks — so far unsuccessfully — to restrict ballot measures more broadly.

Even if misleading ballot language ultimately gets thrown out by the courts, advocates say, these fights can raise the costs of bringing initiatives by requiring supporters to engage in lengthy litigation. And in some states, signature-gathering can't start until ballot language is approved — meaning delays caused by fights over language can eat into the limited timeframe that organizers have to get the necessary signatures.

“This has been an escalating effort to attack ballot titles,” said Sarah Walker, director of legal and policy advocacy at the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which provides support for progressive ballot measures. “It's just more of a long trajectory of efforts to undermine the will of the voters. And it shows how far politicians who are out of step with voters are willing to go to consolidate their power.”

The claims of biased language also raise questions about the role of secretaries of state and other state officials in administering the ballot measure process. Though they may support or oppose ballot measures, there has long been an expectation that state election officials must perform their duties fairly and impartially — just as they're expected to do when running conventional elections involving candidates.

But in the current hyper-partisan political climate, that expectation may be breaking down, leaving good-government advocates concerned.

“A politicized, partisan secretary of state can completely distort public understanding of a ballot question through their control of the summary language,” said Kevin Johnson, executive director of Election Reformers Network, which backs reforms aimed at removing partisanship from election administration (Disclosure: This reporter worked for several months in 2022 as a communications consultant for ERN). “We would never accept a referee playing for one team in sports and we shouldn't in elections either.”

Ohio Issue 1 would have required 60% voter approval to amend the state constitution. (Ohio Capital Journal)

Johnson pointed to Missouri, where Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican who opposes abortion rights, last month approved a ballot title that asks voters if they want to protect “dangerous, unregulated, and unrestricted abortions, from contraception to live birth.” The title also asks voters if they want to “nullify longstanding Missouri law protecting the right to life.”

A lawsuit filed by Missouri's ACLU chapter seeks to require Ashcroft, who is running for the GOP nomination for governor, to use more neutral wording.

The skewed language came after Republican-authored legislation that would have required ballot initiatives to gain 57% approval, rather than a simple majority, unexpectedly died in the state Senate in May, after passing the House. Lawmakers have pledged to try again next year, saying the goal is to thwart the abortion-rights measure.

A proposed constitutional amendment, for which a petition was filed recently with the state by a grassroots organizing group, aims to protect Missouri's ballot initiative process. Among other steps, it would ensure that ballot titles “express the true intent and meaning” of the measure at issue.

Events in Ohio have followed a strikingly similar pattern. First, lawmakers drafted a ballot measure, Issue One, that aimed to make it harder to use ballot initiatives to amend the state constitution by requiring 60% voter approval, among other steps. Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who is running in a competitive Republican primary for the U.S. Senate nomination, told fellow GOPers the change was needed to stop a proposed amendment protecting abortion rights.

In his official role, LaRose approved ballot language for Issue One that said the measure would “elevate the standards” for constitutional amendments — wording that Issue One opponents called overly positive.

After voters overwhelmingly rejected Issue One earlier this month, Republicans tried another approach to stop the abortion-rights measure, which voters will decide in November.

On a 3-2 party-line vote, the state Ballot Board, which is chaired by LaRose, approved a ballot summary drafted by his office which uses the term “unborn child” in place of the more medically accurate “fetus.” The summary also tells voters that the amendment would “always allow an unborn child to be aborted” if a doctor decides it's medically necessary. The actual language of the amendment would bar such an abortion unless the patient agrees to it.

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At the meeting to vote on the language, one Republican board member called the abortion-rights amendment “dangerous” and pledged to fight “tirelessly” against it.

“The Ballot Board's members adopted politicized, distorted language for the amendment, exploiting their authority in a last ditch effort to deceive and confuse Ohio voters ahead of the November vote on reproductive freedom,” Lauren Blauvelt of Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights said in a statement.

In Idaho, it's not abortion rights at issue. But the larger contours of the dispute are familiar.

Organizers of a proposed ballot initiative to create open primaries sued Attorney General Raúl Labrador over the ballot title his office produced. The title told voters that the measure would “replace voter selection of party nominees with nonparty blanket primary.”

In fact, supporters of the initiative said, voters would still choose nominees. But instead of having closed primaries in which only members of the major parties can vote, everyone would get to vote and the top four finishers, regardless of party, would advance to the general election.

Labrador, a Republican, hasn't sought to hide his opposition to the measure. “Let's defeat these bad ideas coming from liberal outside groups,” he tweeted in May.

After being ordered to do so by the Idaho Supreme Court, Labrador submitted new titles that were then certified by the court, but the delay caused by litigation could prove fatal to the measure's chances, supporters say.

“[I]t shortens the already limited time to circulate the initiative petition for signatures,” they wrote in court filings. “This delay alone may doom the possibility of the initiative reaching the ballot.”

Idaho's legislature has for years sought to restrict ballot measures. In March, a resolution that would have imposed stiffer signature-gathering requirements for ballot initiatives passed the state House by 39-31 but failed to win the two-thirds majority needed to go to voters. In 2021, Idaho's Supreme Court struck down a similar measure passed by lawmakers.

In Arkansas, things played out a bit differently. Last year, the State Board of Election Commissioners rejected a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana, saying that the ballot language didn't adequately explain the proposal. For instance, they said the measure didn't tell voters that it would repeal the state's limit, under its medical marijuana law, on how much THC is allowed in edible marijuana.

A lawyer for the coalition backing the measure said that level of detail “simply is not workable for a ballot.”

After a legal challenge, the measure was approved for the ballot, but it was rejected by voters.

Arkansas voters also rejected an effort by lawmakers to make ballot measures harder to pass. Like Ohio's Issue One, it would have required a 60% threshold for approval.

State officials who have tried to use misleading language to boost their side have more often lately been looking to defeat, rather than help, a ballot initiative. But the same scheme is sometimes used to boost a measure's chances.

Language written by Republican lawmakers in Kansas for last year's high-profile effort to ban abortion in the state said the measure would “reserve to the people the right to regulate abortion.” It also said the measure would “affirm there is no constitutional right to abortion or to require the government funding of abortion.”

In fact, the state Supreme Court had previously found that there is a right to abortion, meaning the measure would have taken it away. And government funding of abortion was already illegal.

“The language was very misleading,” said Rachel Sweet, an abortion-rights advocate who played a key role in the successful campaign to defeat the Kansas measure. “We really had to clearly define for people what that amendment was actually trying to do.”

There is some evidence that how a ballot measure is worded can affect the level of support it receives. A 2021 study found that people were almost twice as likely to back a hypothetical tax increase to fund education when it was described as an additional “one cent per dollar,” compared to when it was described as “a 22 percent increase.”

“As a general matter,” wrote the study's author, University of Georgia political scientist Ted Rossier, “state institutions that are responsible for writing ballot questions, as well as the courts that hear challenges thereto, must remain mindful of the potential for nefarious manipulation of the process.”

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Domestic violence shelter funding cut in Gov. Jeff Landry’s budget plan

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lailluminator.com – Julie O'Donoghue – 2024-02-25 10:45:11

Domestic violence shelter funding cut in Gov. Jeff Landry's budget plan

by Julie O'Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator
February 25, 2024

Gov. Jeff Landry's proposed state budget slashes funding for domestic violence victims by millions of dollars starting July 1, even as the governor says crime victims and public safety are his top priority.

State and federal funding for domestic violence shelters could go from $14.6 million in the current fiscal year to just $6.2 million in the next cycle, according to advocates for domestic violence victims. It would be the lowest level of funding for the shelters since Gov. Bobby Jindal was in office 10 years ago. 

If the cut goes through, the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence will have to pull back on plans to add more shelter beds across the state. It would put the brakes on opening up five new shelters and expanding six of 16 existing facilities, executive director Mariah Stidham Wineski said. 

“The new shelters that are opening will shut down,” Wineski said.

Domestic violence is one of the largest public safety issues facing Louisiana. In 2020, the state had the fifth highest female homicide rate in the country. More than half of women victims that year were killed by an intimate partner, according to the Violence Policy Center

It's unclear what led the Landry administration to propose a cut to funding for domestic violence shelters. The governor's office has not responded to a question about why the money was removed. A spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Family Services, where much of the funding is housed, declined to comment.

Most of the cut, $7 million, came from the removal of state money the Louisiana Senate added for shelters in 2023. Wineski and other advocates said lawmakers told them the funding increase would be ongoing and baked into the family welfare budget for years to come.

But when Landry took office in January, he stripped down the state spending plan in preparation for a significant financial downturn next year. He took out money for dozens of programs legislators added in 2023, including for domestic violence shelters, higher education and economic development.

Landry and lawmakers will face annual budget shortfalls of over half a billion dollars after a 0.45% state sales expires in 2025. The governor said he wants to start limiting state spending this year to make it easier to deal with smaller, leaner budgets in the future.

Yet Landry isn't sparing any expense when it comes to other public safety measures he is personally pushing. 

State lawmakers are swiftly moving a package of Landry's bills through a special session on crime. They are expected to add millions of dollars in prison expenses each year by lengthening the time incarcerated people stay behind bars.  

At the same time, domestic violence shelters face reductions in funding, the governor has asked lawmakers to approve approximately $10 million more for a new state police troop for New Orleans and $3 million to send Louisiana National Guard members to the Texas border with Mexico over the next four months. 

Landry said he is pushing these changes to benefit crime victims, but advocates for domestic violence shelters wonder why then their organizations haven't been made a budget priority alongside state police and prisons.

“Every single person we are serving is a victim of crime,” said Julie Pellegrin, executive director of The Haven, a domestic violence shelter that serves Terrebonne, Lafourche and Assumption parishes. 

A 2021 investigation by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor concluded the state desperately needed more shelter beds for domestic violence victims. Louisiana's 16 shelters had a total of 389 spaces, while Louisiana had an average of 2,700 unmet requests for shelter beds every year.

The audit noted no domestic violence shelter exists in central Louisiana, even though Rapides Parish had the 10th highest number of protective orders issued in the state in 2020. 

Wineski has been able to open a shelter in Iberia Parish after receiving a small boost in federal funding from the state a few years ago. The funding increase last year was expected to take shelter bed capacity around the state from around 390 to at least 600 slots, she said.

New facilities had been planned or recently opened in Livingston, Lafourche, St. Tammany, Caddo and Avoyelles parishes. The Avoyelles location would have helped fill the shelter gap in central Louisiana. 

“Domestic violence shelters do keep people alive,” Wineski said.

Iris Domestic Violence Center in Baton Rouge is one of the domestic violence shelters that received more state funding this year. (Julie O'Donoghue/)

At The Haven in Houma, Pellegrin used the extra state money to open up shelter beds and provide outreach services to remote portions of Assumption, Lafourche and Terrebonne. 

A parent can be reluctant to leave an abusive relationship if it means they have to cross parish lines and send their children to a different school, she said. By having more locations, her organization can reach more people.

This year's funding increase is the first hike in state support The Haven had seen in more tha 10 years, Pellegrin said. If Landry cuts that funding in the next cycle, she'll have to close some of the satellite locations she only recently opened.

The Haven's emergency shelter operates at near total capacity yearound already.

“When you make that phone call [to get help from a domestic shelter], you may have to wait,” she said. 

In the Baton Rouge region, Iris Domestic Violence Center was using the money this year to expand its shelter capacity and provide children's programming. 

Construction is already underway on playrooms, study areas and a teen library at Iris. Executive director Patti Joy Freeman also hopes to add a music room  to the facility with donated instruments for children.

Freeman said programs for children and teens are as important as what is offered to the adult victims. Teenagers in abusive families often take on a lot of responsibility helping raise younger children and need space of their own. 

All children also need counseling and programming to ensure the familial cycle of violence is broken, according to Freeman. Those types of resources are crime prevention tools because they help keep domestic violence at bay.

But Freeman won't have the resources to open the new children programs at Iris if state funding for domestic violence shelters gets cut next year. She won't be able to afford the extra staff and utilities needed to run the program. 

“I have to be a good steward with our money,” she said.

Before coming to Iris, Freeman oversaw domestic violence investigations for the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office. A former law enforcement officer, she considers shelters and their programs to be essential to fighting crime. Some victims feel comfortable coming to a shelter for help long before they are willing to interact with police, she said.

“Why are we wondering why these statistics don't go down when we only have 16 shelters with wraparound services?” she said.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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IVF patient vows to fight for access to treatment in Alabama following court ruling

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lailluminator.com – Kelcie Moseley-Morris – 2024-02-25 10:00:39

IVF patient vows to fight for access to treatment in Alabama following court ruling

by Kelcie Moseley-Morris, Louisiana Illuminator
February 25, 2024

Birmingham resident Hannah Miles has been trying to have a baby for more than three years, fighting obstacles like endometriosis, diminished ovarian reserve and cancer treatment that affected her husband's sperm.

The couple is already nearly $40,000 into the in vitro fertilization process after one failed transfer into her uterus in January. Their last embryo is scheduled to be transferred March 19.

She messaged her IVF nurse through tears earlier this week, asking if she should continue the medication injections that cost $800 per vial out of pocket to keep her endometriosis from flaring up.

Her clinic, Alabama Fertility, indicated her transfer can move forward, she said, but it has paused any new treatments or transfers because of the Feb. 16 ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court declaring that frozen embryos are equivalent to human children. The clinic made a post on its Facebook page Thursday addressed to patients.

That means Miles won't have another shot at egg retrieval for the foreseeable future in Alabama if this one doesn't work.

Trump comes out against Alabama IVF ruling as national Republicans scramble for distance

IVF requires the collection of as many eggs as possible that are then fertilized. Some that would not make it after implantation in the uterus because of abnormalities or other health factors are destroyed. That could leave clinics open to prosecution as a result of the new ruling.

“It's heartbreaking, and it's something you don't think you'll ever have to face,” Miles, 29, said. “Now we're here, and we're paying $20,000 a cycle in the hopes that maybe one day we'll get a baby, and now we're facing not even being able to pay exorbitant amounts of money to be able to have a baby.”

The 8-1 decision, authored by Justice Jay Mitchell, has already led more clinics in Alabama to pause IVF treatments, including the state's largest hospital, the University of Alabama Birmingham, for fear of prosecution. Companies have also decided to stop shipping frozen embryos to and from Alabama, according to RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.

The ruling came as a shock to many Americans, but experts say it is the culmination of more than 40 years of efforts to grant “personhood” status to embryos and fetuses.

State Sen. Tim Melson, chairman of the Alabama Senate Healthcare Committee, plans to introduce a bill that would protect IVF by saying an embryo should be considered a potential life but not a human life unless and until it is implanted in the uterus and a viable pregnancy can be detected. As of Friday, Feb. 23, Melson's legislation hadn't been introduced yet.

Miles and a few friends are hoping to make it to the Alabama Capitol on Feb. 28 for an advocacy day and to testify at a public hearing on a similar bill introduced by Democrats, House Bill 225, if it's being heard.

“We have to do something about it,” Miles said. “It feels like there's not much we can do, but we have to do something.”

Previous ‘personhood' efforts failed

It's unclear whether the bill will conflict with the concurring opinion authored by Chief Justice Tom Parker, who wrote, “… any legislative (or executive) act that contravenes the sanctity of unborn life is potentially subject to a constitutional challenge under the Alabama Constitution.”

Parker has long been active in the anti-abortion rights space, and his opinion quoted extensively from the Bible, using religious reasoning for the decision — something he has often done during his time on the court, according to ProPublica reporting from 2014. He worked at former chief justice Roy Moore's think tank, the Foundation for Moral Law, which promotes the idea that the Bible should be the basis of the law in America and championed the “personhood” movement in Alabama. Parker also served as Moore's spokesperson during the controversy over a Ten Commandments monument that ultimately got Moore ousted from his position as a judge in 2003.

Margaret Marsh, historian and professor at Rutgers University, said many anti-abortion groups have opposed the fertility treatment since the world's first IVF baby was born in 1978, calling it a “morally abhorrent” technology and successfully lobbying against federal funding for research using human embryos.

“Their goal was to try to make sure that the American people would think of embryos as people,” Marsh said.

Alabama Attorney General's Office: No plans to prosecute IVF families, providers

In 1983, the U.S. Senate held a vote on the passage of a constitutional amendment to declare that human life begins at conception, but the measure was defeated. In the following years, at least 38 states passed “fetal homicide” laws that allowed prosecution for the death of a fetus as a result of domestic violence or other assault, and some included the option to prosecute a pregnant person for using drugs that caused the death of a fetus.

But attempts to go further at the state level largely haven't been successful, Marsh pointed out. In 2011, an initiative on the ballot in Mississippi that would have granted full personhood status to fertilized eggs failed by a vote of 57% to 42% after doctors and abortion rights groups raised concerns about the consequences it could have for birth control, IVF and other reproductive care. A similar measure in North Dakota failed in 2014 by an even wider margin, 64% to 35%.

“If these things are put to a vote, for the most part, the voters have turned them down, and I think it is likely because they are thinking of either themselves needing infertility treatment, or their friends, or their sisters,” Marsh said. “So they may be anti-abortion, but I don't think they see assisted reproductive technology in the same way they see being pregnant and having an abortion.”

Legislation weighed in other statehouses

Several state legislatures have considered bills this year that relate to “fetal personhood” laws, including Kansas, Florida and Idaho. A bill in Idaho to change the words “embryo” and “fetus” in state law to “preborn children” was pulled back earlier in the session when a doctor from a local IVF clinic raised concerns about its implications for fertility treatments.

Kansas' bill specifies that the embryo must be “in utero,” but it would allow pregnant people to seek child support at any stage of gestation. Representatives for Planned Parenthood in Kansas said it's a tactic to open the door for anti-abortion laws, two years after voters soundly rejected an attempt to amend the constitution to ban abortion in the state.

In Florida, the legislature is considering a bill that would add a fetus to those who could be counted in a wrongful death lawsuit. An amendment would establish that the fetus is a person from conception, according to Florida Phoenix.

The state with one of the most successful personhood laws is Georgia, where abortion is banned after six weeks, and any embryo or fetus with detectable cardiac activity can be claimed as a dependent on a resident's tax returns.

Shana Gadarian, a political scientist professor at Syracuse University who studies public opinion, said despite the support at the legislative level for such laws, she's not sure this latest development out of Alabama will be politically popular with the majority of the country.

“IVF is a pretty common procedure now, and if someone directly hasn't gone through it, it is relatively common among groups that are more likely to be conservative,” Gadarian said. “These are procedures people think of as important in their own lives and are probably separable from abortion.”

Polling from Pew Research Center in 2023 found that 42% of adults in the U.S. say they or someone they know has used fertility treatments, and a majority of Democrats and Republicans surveyed thought insurance should cover the treatments. Less than half of the country has mandated insurance coverage for IVF, according to Stateline.

Whatever happens next, Miles said she's ready to contact her representatives at the local, state and federal levels to change the laws, including helping to elect Democrat Greg Griffin, who's running to replace Parker as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

“Until IVF is protected at the federal level, we are all at risk of having something like this happen,” Miles said. “There is no one angrier at the world than someone going through IVF. They've pissed off the wrong people.”

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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AP calls race for Trump as soon as polls close in South Carolina

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lailluminator.com – Abraham Kenmore – 2024-02-24 18:53:36

AP calls race for Trump as soon as polls close in South Carolina

by Abraham Kenmore, Louisiana Illuminator
February 24, 2024

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Former President Donald Trump won an expected blowout victory Saturday over former Gov. Nikki Haley in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary.

The Associated Press called the race at 7 p.m. with 0% of the precincts reporting.

“This is a little sooner than we anticipated and “an even bigger win than we anticipated,” Trump said as he took the stage to Lee Greenwood's “God Bless the USA.” He told supporters who had been gathering at the fairgrounds in Columbia all day, “You can celebrate for about 15 minutes and then we have to get back to work.”

The candidates and their allies have spent the past month pushing their message to voters across the state. Trump held Get Out the Vote rallies in Conway, North Charleston and Rock Hill, and a Fox town hall in Greenville, while his proxies toured the state. Haley meanwhile spent weeks crisscrossing the state on her tour bus.

Trump has held a steady lead over every other primary opponent in the Palmetto State since last spring, according to polling aggregator 538.

The former president also made international news during his visits to South Carolina, including saying he told the head of a NATO ally he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” if they did not meet defense spending goals.

Messages like that rang true for Andrew Middleton, a 40-year-old IT network engineer in Charleston, who said he wants a president who will keep the U.S. out of foreign conflicts and focus on a domestic agenda. Middleton, who grew up in rural Illinois but has lived in the Charleston area for 12 years now, pushed his young son in a stroller as he walked out of West Ashley High School in the Lowcountry after casting his ballot for Trump.

Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during Trump's administration, attacked the former president over his comments, and President Joe Biden said the remarks were “shameful” and “dangerous.”

Trump's comments, however, did not lessen enthusiasm for the former president at the polls.

“If anybody can get things straightened out quickly, it'll be him,” said Charleston-area voter Amy Coffey.

Saturday marked the first time the 48-year-old office administrator had cast a ballot in a primary. She said the current presidential race felt “crucial” to her and Malcolm Coffey, a 49-year-old electrician, prompting them to come out.

Both cast ballots for Trump, citing border security as the top issue concerning them.

“It's not that I don't like Nikki Haley,” Amy Coffey said. “ I just don't think now is the perfect time to bring someone new in. She'll have her time.”

Former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley casts her ballot in the South Carolina Republican primary on Feb. 24, 2024, in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Haley has been careful to manage expectations for her results in South Carolina, saying victory would be “making sure it looks close” rather than winning outright.

“All I can do is my part; I don't know if it will make a difference or not,” said Colleen Geis, a 48-year-old medical care coordinator living in the Charleston area who voted for the perceived long-shot Haley.

While Haley cast her own ballot on gated Kiawah Island, Geis was among a steady stream of James Island residents who stepped into the polling place at Harbor View Elementary.

Some living in the surrounding neighborhood used the opportunity to walk their dogs as they fulfilled their civic duty.

“Anybody but Trump,” said Lauren May, a 32-year-old doctor's assistant, after casting her vote.

Haley also earned the support of Mark Leon. The 51-year-old marketing consultant said 2016 was a difficult year. It was the first time he saw people become emotional and angry over politics. It was the first time he saw lifelong friendships end based on who they voted for.

“It's only going to get worse this year because it's the same players,” Leon said of a Trump-Biden faceoff.

He felt if Haley were chosen as the Republican nominee, she would bring more empathy to the race rather than instantly polarizing an issue.

On Tuesday, Haley gave a defiant speech in Greenville where she reiterated that she plans to stay in the race until Super Tuesday on March 5, when 15 states will vote.

“I feel no need to kiss the ring,” she said in that speech. “And I have no fear of Trump's retribution. I'm not looking for anything from him.”

According to the Election Commission, 205,099 people voted early in the primary and 12,018 people had cast absentee ballots ahead of Saturday.

That number far greater than the total number of South Carolinians who voted in the Democratic primary, which drew about 131,000 voters.

Haley is the last major candidate opposing Trump, but two extreme long-shot candidates remain in the running — Pastor Ryan Binkley of Texas and veteran Air Force combat pilot David Stuckenberg of Florida.

Three other candidates, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, all dropped out of the race after making it onto the South Carolina ballot.

This story will be updated.

This report was first published by SC Daily Gazette, part of the States Newsroom nonprofit news network with the . It's supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. SC Daily Gazette maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Seanna Adcox for questions: info@scdailygazette.com. Follow SC Daily Gazette on Facebook and X.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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