Editorial: Richland County officials still failing to lead on elections debacle

March 10, 2013 

— THE UNEARTHING of yet another shocking detail illustrating how terribly Richland County officials botched the Nov. 6 election further diminishes public confidence in the integrity of local elections — if that’s even possible at this point.

Considering officials’ inexcusable failure to provide an adequate number of voting machines, the latest revelation in this endless, frustrating drama is logical, although unexpected: There also were too few poll workers available. The State’s Clif LeBlanc recently reported that the county had 806 workers in the field — 575 fewer than the minimum required by state law.

True to form, elections officials, including former director Lillian McBride, now in a new position in the office, provided no answer as to why so few workers were on duty. That’s unsettling. Equally troubling is the fact that attorney Steve Hamm, tasked with unraveling the mystery of the Election Day disaster, didn’t know about the deficit.

Enough is enough. It’s time for those who made this mess and the leaders responsible for cleaning it up to do their jobs. They have sat on their hands while rumor and innuendo swirled that the elections were fixed. They have been unable — or unwilling — to provide adequate answers to simple questions. And they have been unacceptably quiet when they should be reassuring citizens by keeping them informed about the effort to determine what caused this mess and, more importantly, how they will prevent it from happening again.

Yes, the Board of Elections has been meeting and a process has begun to find a new director. Yes, Mr. Hamm’s report is pending. But at some point, someone has to assume leadership and help the public make sense of this critical and emotional problem.

If officials think keeping quiet and allowing time to pass without engaging and updating the public will make this go away, they’re as clueless as the bunch who botched the election. We deserve answers.

Many anxiously await Mr. Hamm’s final report, which, quite frankly, we expected before now. It certainly is our hope that it will provide solid details about what caused the problems, who was responsible and what improvements should be made. A preliminary report noted that Ms. McBride shouldered significant blame but said others were at fault as well, including to the elections board.

Regardless of what Mr. Hamm’s report reveals, it will be meaningless if elections officials don’t make necessary changes. The board’s poor leadership and the secretive process used to create a new high-paid position for Ms. McBride, seen as a reward rather than a punishment, have hurt its credibility. As for Ms. McBride, she helped cause this mess and is still obligated to clarify what transpired and help rectify matters.

And what of the county legislative delegation that appointed the inexperienced Ms. McBride? Its members are eerily silent. Let’s hope that means they are busy pushing for early voting, getting local legislators out of the administration of elections and other remedies at the State House. Considering the mess they’ve made, it’s the least they can do.

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