RICHLAND’S ELECTION MESS

Interim Richand County election report due Wednesday

jmonk@thestate.comNovember 30, 2012 

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A preliminary report from an investigation into facts surrounding the Nov. 6 Richland County election will be delivered to the county election commission by next Wednesday.

That was one highlight of a brief meeting of the county election panel Thursday.

Commission members also voted to accept a state attorney general’s opinion saying the commission — and not the county’s legislative delegation — has the right to discipline or fire county elections director Lillian McBride. Elections and Voter Registration Board chief McBride was hired by the delegation in 2011 to head the newly merged Elections & Voter Registration Office.

Officials cautioned that next week’s report, to be written by commission lawyer Steve Hamm, likely will be short and only a report of facts that Hamm has so far discovered.

After widespread failures in the Nov. 6 elections, the commission retained Hamm to investigate what happened. Shortages of voting machines, with many broken down, led to waits of up to seven hours for some voters and prompted countless others to leave polling places in frustration before ever casting a ballot.

Hamm told the commission that one finding he’s made so far is that there were only about 627 or 628 machines in the county’s 124 voting precincts on Election Day.

That is far short of the number in precincts for 2008 and 2010 elections for the county’s 231,000 or so registered voters, he said.

Hamm said he still has not determined precisely how many machines were supposed to be in each precinct. Nor has he determined how many of the 627 or so machines in the 124 precincts were actually working when polls opened on Nov. 6.

Hamm is supposed to complete his report by late December.

Asked about the presence of a prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and an FBI agent at Monday’s public hearing about the election debacle, Hamm said he had not direct knowledge of why they were there.

But he added, “I think it’s probably prudent law enforcement. This is a matter that’s drawn a lot of attention. The U.S. Attorney’s Office takes protection of voting rights very seriously.”

The commission will meet Monday to consider protests over the penny sales tax and other election issues.

In other action, the commission voted to waive confidentiality of all matters that could be discussed concerning former county elections director Mike Cinnamon. McBride has blamed Cinnamon for not providing her with the information she needed to run a smooth election. But others have said all the information McBride needed would have been easily available to her from other sources, such as the State Election Commission, had she sought it out.

Voted to accept a State Attorney General’s opinion saying the commission has the right to fire county Elections and Voter Registration Board chief McBride. Under a state law, McBride was hired by the Legislative Delection for her job in 2011.

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