Rep. Garrick: ‘We're here 20 days later and there's no plan’

November 26, 2012 

— After nearly three weeks of silence, Elections Director Lillian McBride had her chance to talk about what went wrong in the Nov. 6 Richland County elections.

McBride spoke after nearly an hour of testimony from Elections Commission chair Liz Crum, during Monday’s fact-finding hearing called by the Richland County legislative commission.

McBride, opening her testimony by reading from a prepared written statement, blamed the lack of machines in polling places on an elections staff member misreading a spreadsheet. When asked by Rep. Todd Rutherford to identify the employee, the legislative delegation’s chair, Sen. Darrell Jackson, stopped McBride from answering.

State law would have required at least 940 machines for Richland County, but only 628 were in polling places, according to an independent analysis of Richland County voting machine records, obtained from the S.C. Elections Commission. There were 813 machines used in the 2010 election.

McBride admitted there weren’t enough machines in county polling places, though she said she did not know how many actually went out.

Those kinds of answers did not satisfy some in the delegation.

“We're here 20 days later and there's no plan,” said Rep. Mia Butler Garrick, who has been outspoken on the need for accountability for the election problems. “A lot of the documents we asked for aren’t here.”

Garrick told McBride and Crum she now has more questions then answers after listening to testimony.

But Jackson deflected some of the comments directed specifically at McBride from other delegation members, saying the delegation shared some blame for the election problems.

Rep. Joe Neal asked how Richland County could have such a high machine failure rate — something other counties did not experience.

McBride said the machines were tested but said she couldn’t explain why so many machines broke down.

McBride said she was upset about how poorly the election process fared and apologized to the standing-room only crowd. She said her office would make sure such mistakes would not happen in future county elections, though she offered few specifics on how that would be done.

She also said her office was still gathering information to answer why the elections went so wrong.

McBride and Crum appeared at Monday’s fact-finding hearing in the Gressette Building at the State House to answer questions about problems that led to waits of three to seven hours for thousands of voters — with many leaving polling places in frustration before ever casting a ballot. Difficulties in tabulating results led to lawsuits, and a final count was not ready until roughly a week later.

In her testimony, Crum said county elections officials were first alerted to unusually long lines around 9 a.m. Election Day. Roughly 18 technicians were on stand-by to work on problem machines, she added.

Crum, in her testimony, said election officials did not know how many machines failed.

In answer to questions about how many machines were in each polling place, Crum said no one knew whose handwriting was on the list indicating actual number of machines delivered.

Before the start of Monday’s hearing, the S.C. attorney general ruled the Election Commission — not the Richland County legislative delegation — has the power to fire Elections Director Lillian McBride.

The opinion, requested last week by delegation member Sen. John Scott Jr., was issued just before the start of Monday’s hearing, called by the county’s legislative delegation.

Criticism has focused on McBride, who reports directly to the 15-member legislative delegation, which hired her in 2011 to run the county’s elections and voter registration office at an annual salary of $86,344.

Read more in Tuesday editions of The State.

Compiled from Twitter feed by Anne-Kathryn Flanagan, staff reports

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