Many Richland voters may not cast ballots until 10pm

jholleman@thestate.comNovember 6, 2012 

— It seems voters at many Richland County precincts may wait in line until 9 or 10 tonight to cast ballots.

At the Keenan Precinct, which votes at Sanders Middle School, at Pinebelt and Two Notch roads, there were still 150 people in line at 7:45 p.m.

People voting said they waited three hours to cast their ballots; 677 had voted so far.

Precinct worker Betty Miles said two years ago, the precinct had eight machines for mid-term elections. This time, there were four, but one was used for curbside voting. "It wasn't enough," Miles said. Poll workers expect to be there past 11, she said.

Wanda McKeever got in line at 4:15 -- after checking on the line two times earlier in the day. By 7:45, she was only half-way to the booths. "I've been standing in line, calling the Election Commission. It took me an hour to get through. I had to leave a message, which they probably won't return."

One young voter said she watched the entire Hunger Games movie on her iPad, and that was in between talking to people, she said.

At 7 p.m. more than 80 people were still in line outside the Episcopal Church of St. Simon and St. Jude at the Riverwalk Precinct near Irmo, while roughly twice that many waited to vote inside.

Rows of parked cars lined Kennerly Road for about a half-mile in each direction.

Hank Weed was among those waiting outside and expected to be there for some time.

Weed said he received a text message around 6:30 p.m. from his wife, Jennifer, who got in line at 4:30 p.m. but had only made it through one of two buildings on her way to the voting booth.

Weed said poll workers had not said how long they expected it would take to get the remainder voters though the line.

“I have no clue, but I’m going to wait,” he said.

At 7:30 p.m., things might have begun to clear up at the Spring Valley West precinct -- at least everyone was inside the building.

Once inside, people were having to wait an hour or less.

The precinct, which votes at the Jewish Community Center, had 4 1/2-hour waits earlier in the day.

At the Richland County Election Commission, the line was still out of the door at 7:30. Workers hoped everyone would finish voting before 9 p.m.

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Matt Pennington compared the voting process in Richland County Tuesday to being on the television show “Survivor,” and he was losing.

Pennington was among the thousands of voters frustrated by waits that were abnormally long, even for a presidential election. With fewer voting machines at many precincts and many more machines breaking down throughout the day, Richland County voters waited three hours or more to register their opinions.

Most were angry by the time they left their precincts. Some left before they had a chance to vote.

South Carolina was experiencing high voter participation statewide -- similar to 2008 when the state broke its previous record, according to the S.C. State Election Commission

A few minutes before the polls were to close, Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the commission, said it was too early to say whether a new record will be set.

Pennington, 31, voted in Columbia’s Ward 3 at Reformation Lutheran Church. He said he arrived at 8:30 a.m. and somehow ended up voting after others who arrived at 10 a.m. At one point during the more than three-hour process, the voters were split into two lines, then “there were two tribes and people were making an alliance, and we were getting a little rowdy in the other line.”

The lines eased at the precinct in Earlewood later in the afternoon.

Pinehurst Park in Columbia was down to two machines much of the first hour before its third machine got online. At Dutch Fork Middle School, where there are usually 10 voting machines, there were only four, and one of those wasn’t working at 8 a.m. At one point, a voter ordered pizza to be delivered for people standing in line.

At the Keenan Precinct at Sanders Middle School, the wait was three hours all day, with no let-up. At 3 p.m., more than 150 people waited for one of four voting machines to cast their ballots.

Richland County elections officials said they had the same number of machines as in past elections, though they acknowledged many of the machines at precincts were breaking down.

Many poll managers throughout the county, however, said they had to make do with fewer resources than during past elections. Barbara Garrett, poll manager at the Pontiac precinct, said the school had only four voting machines and had asked for more during the day.

“They promised to be sending some more machines out,’’ she said. “You know how it is with presidential elections. But everybody seems to understand the long lines.’’

Garrett said she didn’t know that anyone had left, but voter Felicia Pention said she’d seen several people leave.

“This has been not good. I’ve been in line at least an hour and a half,” she said. “I have thought about walking away, but I have not. I have seen plenty of others who have walked away. I said to them to come back. They said they would.’’

At Dutch Fork Elementary, voter John Wood walked out at 3:30 p.m. after being told the wait could be 5 1/2 hours. He had to pick up his daughter at 6 p.m., he said.

“I am not sure what the true story is behind the machines, but someone should take full responsibility for this and in the future better safe checks should be installed,” Wood said.

Sharon A. Bruce waited nearly five hours, much of that time in the outdoors, to vote at Pine Lakes precinct near Lower Richland High School.

“We thought it was because there was problems with the machines, but it turned out the biggest holdup was there was one person checking everyone’s ID (and) keying it into a single laptop,” Bruce said. “We hung in there because there was no way we were going to be deterred from voting.”

While voters waited at many precincts in Richland County, the lines were short or non-existent at midday at Ward 9 at Prince Hall Masonic Lodge and at Ward 24 at Kilbourne Park Baptist Church. Oddly, just a few miles from Prince Hall, the line wrapped around Logan Elementary School at noon. And at Ward 25, which shares facilities at Kilbourne Park Baptist, the wait was three hours, according to voter reports.

The problems started early, as voting was delayed for nearly 45 minutes at two Richland County precincts.

David Eddy of Northeast Richland complained that he could not find a place to park at 8:30 a.m. at Conder Elementary School’s Midway precinct and was told there was a two-hour wait to vote. He decided to leave and come back. Three hours later, he said, he was told the wait would be three hours.

“This is outrageous,” Eddy said. “Only people without jobs and living on entitlements can waste this much time. I feel disenfranchised by this mess. Heads should roll for preventing working people from voting.”

Gina Smith contributed to this story

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