Richland Voting Mess

Richland election chief promised smooth vote

High court to get filings today on possible recount

jmonk@thestate.comNovember 13, 2012 

Richland Co. Election Commissioner, Lillian McBride, right, works with the employees who were counting absentee votes Wednesday.


— Richland County elections director Lillian McBride went before Richland County Council in May to ask for another $55,000 for her $1.1 million budget for the 2012-13 year.

[Below the story: Browse a chart showing how many voting machines should have been in each Richland County precinct to meet state requirements based on registered voters]

The money would help pay for November’s general election, she told council members, including upgrading two positions to full-time, providing more resources for new voter identification requirements and other expenses.

Council approved the funds.

“She assured us the 2012 elections would go smoothly,” council member Joyce Dickerson recalled Monday.

But nothing was smooth about last Tuesday’s election, one critics are calling one of the most bungled South Carolina county elections in modern times. It included unduly long lines for voters, as well as accounts of broken voting machines and a general shortage of them in many of the county’s 124 precincts, an apparent violation of state law that calls for one machine per 250 registered voters.

Some voters, unable to endure the waits, simply left without casting ballots.

Now, after a flurry of protests filed late last week, the Supreme Court today is expected to get filings by noon, arguing whether a state-led recount of ballots should proceed.

Still, a group of citizens Monday called for all ballots to be tossed out and a new county election to be held, claiming some voters had been disenfranchised.

It’s still unclear when — or how — Richland County’s mess of an election will be untangled.

McBride has refused to comment since election night last Tuesday on what went wrong.

Sen. Darrell Jackson, part of the 15-member Richland County legislative delegation that appointed McBride to her $86,344 post, said Monday he and county attorney Larry Smith decided that all public questions to McBride should wait until a decision from the S.C. Supreme Court is issued.

Justices could decide to let stand the unofficial outcomes from Tuesday’s election or approve a recount — though no hearing date for such a decision has been set.

“We expect a quick resolution of that matter, and we will have the public hearing,” Jackson said Monday. “They (the county attorney) are advising Lillian not to say anything until the legal stuff is over.”

The county’s legislative delegation originally set a public hearing on the election for today, only to cancel it after last week’s filings with the Supreme Court. Those filings were prompted by a protest about the still uncertified outcome of House 75, in which Republican Kirkman Finlay III appeared to narrowly defeat Democrat Joe McCulloch.

Jackson said he wants to hear what McBride has to say before reaching any conclusions about her employment.

Only the county legislative delegation has the authority to take any action against McBride.

Unlike most of the county’s other 1,700-plus employees, McBride has no immediate supervisor and can’t be fired or demoted by county officials. Her special status is due to a 2011 state law, backed by the Richland County legislative delegation, which combined and took control of the elections and voter registration agencies of Richland County. The law provided that the delegation would choose the new director and that Richland County Council must fund the new agency.

Meanwhile, a group of citizens and public officials Monday demanded that nearly all of Tuesday’s election results be tossed out, because of what they allege is gross mismanagement or a “deliberate effort” to sabotage the election process.

“We are asking that the election results be invalidated,” said Michael Letts, an outspoken opponent of the penny sales tax for transportation. Letts also lost his bid for County Council District 8 to incumbent Democrat Jim Manning 9,671 to 5,569, according to unofficial results.

The penny sales tax won approval Tuesday by more than 9,000 votes.

“People have been disenfranchised,” said Letts, who was joined at Monday’s news conference by council members Val Hutchinson and Bill Malinowski, Don Weaver of the S.C. Association of Taxpayers and local Republican businessman Rusty DePass, a former chairman of the State Election Commission.

Letts said several citizens and officials have asked the county elections office repeatedly for information on how many machines were in each precinct and how many of those broke down on Election Day. But he said they have received no response from McBride’s office.

Letts said he will be writing a letter Tuesday to Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson to ask for an investigation.

Jackson said he, too, wants to hear from McBride about what happened.

And, he said he is inclined to give McBride a second chance to straighten things out.

“Our job now is to fix it and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Jackson said.

Chart: Voting machine distribution required by state law

For fullscreen, downloading and other options, use the toolbar at the bottom of this document.

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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