Study: Fewer voters but longer waits and later voting in Richland Co. vs Greenville Co.

cleblanc@thestate.comApril 11, 2013 

— About 35 times as many Richland County voters cast ballots last fall after the official poll-closing time than their Greenville counterparts, a new study has found.

An analysis by USC mathematics professor Duncan Buell shows that 13,860 people in Richland County voted after 7 p.m. during the mishandled Nov. 6 election.

In Greenville County, 403 people cast ballots after the 7 p.m. cutoff to be in line and allowed to vote, Buell’s study, released earlier this week, found.

The study’s results add an exclamation point to Richland County’s election mess: About 50,000 more voters cast ballots in Greenville than in Richland, and Greenville’s election went smoothly.

The analysis further underscores the fallout of shortages of voting machines and poll workers in Richland County. But it does not dispute that shortages were principally to blame.

“There were actually more votes per terminal (machine) in Greenville than in Richland on average, and yet there were only 403 late votes, less than one-half of 1 percent” of voters that day, the University of South Carolina professor wrote. The late percentage in Richland County was 12.2 percent, the analysis shows.

Buell, who has studied voting patterns across the state for several years, advised Richland County elections officials to:

• Minimize the number of small precincts, especially when there is a shortage of machines.

•  Train workers to be speedier in getting voters to machines.

Some of the 121,206 voters who cast ballots in Richland County during the presidential election waited as long as seven hours. The final vote was cast at Keels precinct, at 17 minutes and 59 seconds after midnight. Uncounted numbers of voters left in frustration.

Buell said that mathematics “queuing theory,” the study of waiting times, shows that in small precincts – those with fewer than 1,200 registered voters – machine shortages have a disproportionate impact on voting times.

For example, shorting one machine to a precinct that normally would have three machines doubles voting times from 12 minutes to 24 minutes, Buell said.

In Richland County, 25 of its 124 precincts have fewer than 1,200 registered voters, Buell said. Greenville has 11 such precincts of its 151 total.

Poll workers who are inefficient or overwhelmed in getting voters from precinct lines to voting machines create a cascading effect on delays, Buell said.

Quickly getting each voter to a machine “may only save a few seconds per voter, but those few seconds could have a significant effect on the overall generation of long lines and late votes,” he said.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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