Richland Co. election officials scramble to fix voting problems

otaylor@thestate.comNovember 6, 2012 

  • Inside the election storm If you’re at the Richland County’s Elections and Voter Registration Office on Election Day, you have a problem. On the day votes are cast, the county prepares for a crush of thousands seeking immediate help at its Hampton Street administration building. And today is no different. From the elderly to college students, many waited in hours-long lines to get their problems solved. As the phones rang off the hook, and the people waiting outside in sub-50 degree weather grew agitated, it became apparent that most of the problems could’ve been resolved if the voters hadn’t waited until they went to the polls. The county building is a fail-safe for last-minute issues. Get your answer here and then you can turn around and use one of the office’s several voting machines. (For what it’s worth, there were no reports of deficient machines at the county’s administration building.) “Rather than wait in another line, they just vote here,” Stephany Snowden, the county’s spokeswoman said. Snowden also compared Election Day at the elections office to Black Friday for retailers. Fitting, since county officials looked like harried sales associates.

— Officials at Richland County’s Elections and Voter Registration Office scrambled to relieve voters stranded in hours-long lines by malfunctioning voting machines.

The distress calls from voting precincts was on a continuous loop since the polls opened at 7 a.m. By 8 a.m., reports of voting being delayed by almost an hour began trickling in.

At the Oak Pointe precinct, no machines were working until 7:40 a.m., then only three of the eight machines were working for an hour or so. By 10:06 a.m., when Bill Arnott IV finished voting, only five of the eight machines were working.

“I shouldn’t take three hours to vote, especially when record numbers of early voters have supposedly reduce the number of people voting today,” Arnott said. “The full complement of machines never works. Some would be working, then not. Then they fix one and get it to work, and another would break.”

The county has 124 voting precincts. Cheryl A. Goodwin, the elections systems coordinator, said there were about 700 voting machines. A precise number of malfunctioning machines wasn’t immediately available, but Goodwin said the faulty machines, coupled with a high volume of voters, contributed to the exasperating waits for some.

“We just have long lines because this is a record turnout and we’re just overwhelmed with people, which is a good thing,” Goodwin said. “We’re asking that they be patient with us absolving voter machine issues. It’s a process.”

During a mid-morning tour of the elections and voter registration office, Stephany Snowden, the county’s spokeswoman, said there were the same number of machines available for voters as there were in 2008.

When a problem was reported, technicians at the office attempted to walk poll workers through a machine reboot.

“If they’re not turned on the specific way, then it doesn’t work,” Snowden said about the machines. “These things are, I don’t want to say delicate, but they have to be turned on a specific way. When we find that they cannot address it from that standpoint, then we’re sending someone out.”

Goodwin said the county had 18 machine technicians in the field on Election Day. Shortly after noon, a technician was taking a replacement to Sims Park, a precinct that had been reporting problems for much of the morning. But replacing the devices was not so simple, Goodwin, who was within view of a row of machines, said.

“I’ve got to make sure the data is on the machine,” said Goodwin, holding memory cards in her hand.

Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.

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