Attorney will recommend longer poll hours for Richland County

February 12, 2013 

Columbia attorney Steve Hamm said he will recommend to the General Assembly that it extend the hours at the polls on election day, so they are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Hamm said many of Richland County’s election woes in the Nov. 6 general election, which was plagued by massive shortages of working voting machines, could have been alleviated at many of the county’s 124 precincts by longer voting hours.

Currently, state law requires polls to stay open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election day. Only the General Assembly can enact a change.

Hamm, who spoke to the Columbia Rotary Club on Monday, said an analysis of Richland County voting patterns on Nov. 6 showed that around 6 p.m. there was a surge of voters who were getting off work. That resulted in a flood of voters showing up before 7 p.m., he said, adding that anyone who got in a voting line before 7 p.m. was allowed to vote.

Using all of the county’s existing 850-plus voting machines (instead of the 600 or so that were used on election day), making sure they are in working order and expanding poll hours would go a long way to ensuring a smooth vote in the next election, Hamm said.

Others have proposed the county explore buying perhaps more than 100 new voting machines – at $4,200 per machine – as well as establishing up to 40 new voting precincts to handle voters. The county now has 124 precincts for more than 240,000 registered voters.

Hamm spoke for 40 minutes, assuring the group of 100 Rotarians that despite an ongoing court challenge the election results will stand.

-- John Monk

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