EDITORIAL: McBride should resign as Richland County elections chief

December 23, 2012 

— GIVEN THE gravity of Richland County’s Nov. 6 elections debacle, we don’t know if there is anything Lillian McBride could have said or done to restore public confidence in her leadership or to warrant her continuing as director of elections and voter registration. But it is telling and disappointing that she has failed to try.

Other than an early attempt to blame her predecessor and a belated apology at a Richland County legislative delegation hearing, Ms. McBride has done far too little to take responsibility for or explain the fiasco that had some voters waiting up to seven hours to cast votes and led to lawsuits, lost ballots and weeks’ late final results.

We see no other way forward but for Ms. McBride to step down as a majority of county lawmakers have requested, not simply because of the Election Day disaster, but because of her overall failure to properly prepare and manage the process leading up to Nov. 6 and her inability to lead through this crisis.

A preliminary report by attorney Steve Hamm, investigating the matter on behalf of the county Board of Elections, placed considerable blame on Ms. McBride. He noted that “ultimately, the issue of delivering the correct number of voting machines to each precinct was the responsibility of the director.” The failure to ensure that an adequate number of machines was in place was the No. 1 cause of this mess.

Mr. Hamm also said Ms. McBride shouldn’t have delegated important decisions such as allowing a subordinate to give an unnamed part-time employee responsibility for determining the number of voting machines each precinct would receive. In addition, Ms. McBride did not have a formal checklist to aid in preparing for her first presidential election. To be fair, Mr. Hamm said Ms. McBride wasn’t alone: Her staff and the board also failed to notice obvious problems. The elections board failed to ask basic questions about voting machines and the overall process.

But the fact remains that it was Ms. McBride’s job to make sure that the elections ran smoothly and in a manner that engendered trust among voters. When that did not happen, it was her professional and civic duty to come before voters, acknowledge and explain the problems and set a course forward to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

For sure, local legislators’ intrusion in elections — they passed the law that established this office and also appointed Ms. McBride — complicates matters. But attempts by Sen. Darrell Jackson, who leads the delegation, and others to shield Ms. McBride and her willingness to go along have only made the case that she isn’t capable of handling the public’s business when tough questions and difficult issues arise.

There is no pleasure, particularly in this season and this economy, to suggest someone lose her job. But this is serious public business that is bigger than any one person. Ms. McBride was trusted — and handsomely paid — to do a job that she failed at miserably. She should resign.

If she fails to do this, the elections board should muster the courage to remove her. And if it refuses, then delegation members, particularly Sen. Jackson, need to make it clear that there is no other option. Although legislators have no formal power, their informal power over this board is substantial.

It’s time to move on. With so much focus on Ms. McBride, too little time has been spent on the larger issue: Richland County’s voting process has been compromised. Moving beyond the McBride era is the first step toward restoring voter confidence and protecting the integrity of Richland elections.

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