RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — Richland County’s elections office is asking for money for 10 new voting machines as part of a $1.7 million budget request approved by its board Friday.
The proposal, which must go through county administrator Tony McDonald on its way to a skeptical Richland County Council, comes in at $491,386 more than this year’s budget.
Several members of council signaled this week they are not receptive to increasing the office’s budget.
The largest single boost in the proposed budget is for a temp agency providing pollworkers for upcoming municipal elections, a $309,269 expense that officials said would be reimbursed by the state.
But interim director Jasper Salmond, Board of Elections & Voter Registration members and lawyer Steve Hamm made it clear the line item for salaries was not increasing next year — despite the new $74,600 job created for former elections director Lillian McBride and a salary of up to $80,000 set aside for her successor.
By Friday, the office still had not provided a job description for McBride, though members set the salary for her post earlier this month.
McBride’s salary, along with that of a new director, is covered by one position that had never been filled plus the recent retirement of a longtime employee who will not be replaced, Hamm said. Additional savings have been realized by bringing in Salmond at a director’s salary of $54,000, compared with the salary McBride was making as director at $89,124.
The new director, who has not been hired, will make at least $9,124 less than McBride did.
Most of Friday’s meeting, though, centered on how many new machines the county needs — 18 to 20 of them — and whether the board should move to establish additional polling places.
The purchase of 10 additional machines, though short of the 18-20, would move the county toward meeting the legal standard of one machine per 250 registered voters, board members said.
“At the moment, the board does not have to purchase additional machines based on the elections that take place in the next budget year,” Hamm said. But it will need additional machines by the next general election, in November 2014, and members said it was prudent to phase in the cost over the next two to three years.
Hamm suggested focusing resources on maintaining the 958 machines it already owns.
Because there are no countywide contests next year, Hamm said the county doesn’t need to worry about adding new precincts right now. He said the board could move slowly toward establishing a total of 160 polling places. It has 124 now.
“Additional precincts will be very expensive,” requiring not only new pollworkers, but machines and printers, he said. The owners of some buildings may charge rent, too.
New precincts — proposed by some state and county elections officials earlier this month — also would require purchase of new, $2,000 taxpayer-funded voting machines designed for the blind, officials have said.
In the end, the four-member board cut to $40,000 what had been a $1.1 million line item submitted by the director and staff for new voting machines and required printers.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.