Richland County reps: ‘We’re going to get to the bottom of this’

jholleman@thestate.comNovember 7, 2012 

— The outcomes of several high-profile Richland County races and the penny sales tax referendum were still in limbo Wednesday afternoon, with thousands of ballots still not counted.

Among races for which final results were still out:

• House 75: Republican Kirkman Finlay III and Democrat Joe McCulloch. McCulloch has a slim lead among ballots tallied.

• House 78: Republican Joan Brady and Democrat Beth Bernstein. Bernstein has a lead over the incumbent.

• County Council District 9: Republican Val Hutchinson and Democrat Julie Ann Dixon. Dixon has a lead over the incumbent.

• Richland 1 and Richland 2 school boards.

In addition, the outcome of the penny sales tax — a $1.07 billion plan to improve transportation — was still uncertain, with at least 18 precincts and thousands of absentee ballots to be tallied by early Wednesday afternoon.

At 10:35 a.m. 35,000 votes, including 15,000 absentee ballots, were being counted at the Richland County Election Commission office on Harden Street. A counter, in which paper ballots from absentee voters were being fed, broke last night after about 5,000 of 20,000 were counted.

The process was expected to take about three hours.

But around 11:20 a.m., another part broke on the absentee ballot reading machine, increasing the delay.

By 2:05 p.m., Richland County Election Commission Chairwoman Liz Crum was helping to feed paper absentee ballots into the machine.

The uncounted votes cast with voting machines were being held hostage by technology. Votes in boxes from Pennington, Sandlapper, Meadowfield, Dentsville, North Springs 2 and Hunting Creek could not be downloaded, and there are only a few technicians able to unlock the information.

Rep. James Smith said he expects hearings as early as next week on the county’s vote problems focusing on accountability and “how we make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” fellow Rep. Todd Rutherford said. “It’s not only outrageous, it violates the law.”

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