Correspondence concerning Letts’ November column

April 18, 2013 

Cindi Scoppe’s response to Michael Letts’ November column submission

11/13/12

Hi Michael

I’ve got a couple of problems with this column.

The first is the claim that the Richland County Election Commission is the same government as the County Council. It should be, if it even exists, but it isn’t. It’s appointed by the county legislative delegation, and the county council and county administration have absolutely no control over it, and vice versa. In fact, it’s autonomous even from the delegation, since the members of the board can’t be removed and, under my reading of the statute, neither can the current director. Since the “same governmental entity” claim is central to the entire piece, it’s not something I can correct with some minor editing.

In addition, I’m not aware of any law that would allow the county to hold a do-over electionI’m not even sure that the county could choose to not implement the results -- that is, to pretend the vote didn’t happen -- and then call a new election in two years. Perhaps there is something in the law that would allow that; I’m just not aware of it. If you are going to call on the county to do something I think might be illegal, then you need to cite the law or explain the legal theory under which it could be done..

If you can address these problems and send me a new column, I’ll be happy to take a look at it.

Thanks

Cindi

Midhael Letts’ November guest column submission

11/8/12

Hi folks,

Please consider the opinion-editorial below. Thank you,

Michael Letts

Richland County must hold valid elections

By Michael Letts

Think of it this way: A government entity proposes a public referendum on a very controversial tax increase, and that same government entity botches the election to such a degree that citizens are nearly unanimous in their outrage. Further, thousands of citizens are disenfranchised due to an apparent decision by this government entity to use a fewer number voting machines than required by law.

It’d be disingenuous for this government entity – in this case, Richland County – to move forward with its tax increase knowing that their own actions deprived people of the ability to participate in the decision-making process.

The county must not only conduct a thorough investigation into these failures – including an audit of the voting machines – but they must hold a new, valid election. To fail to do so would be a disservice to citizens.

In this high-tech age, there’s no excuse for what happened on Tuesday: people waiting six or more hours to cast ballots; polling places with too few voting machines; and an awful lot of those voting malfunctioning on Election Day.

In 45 South Carolina counties, voting seemed to go smoothly on Nov. 6. But in my home county – a county which on this very day asked citizens to entrust it with $1.2 billion more additional tax money – we just couldn’t get it right. The most glaring deficiency was the lack of voting machines. While state law requires polling places to have one machine per 250 registered voters, many places had fewer than required. Some even said they had fewer machines did they did in previous years.

WIS-TV reported that Ridge View High had just ten machines for its 4,700 registered voters, and one wasn’t working. The law required at least 19 voting machines at that location.

The State newspaper’s Warren Bolton noted on Twitter than a polling place near Irmo which normally has ten voting machines only had four on Tuesday morning. And, of course, one of those didn’t work.

In addition, several voters have reported that they voted straight-party but then also voted for a candidate of a different party -- only to find out that the machine had “corrected” their vote back to straight ticket.

Before I go any further, let’s dispense with this point: I was a leader of the citizens’ group opposing the poorly-thought-out sales tax increase in the county. The tax increase passed, according to the Election Commission.

But we may never know voters’ true intent. Thousands were disenfranchised. I personally witnessed hundreds walk away from one polling site without casting their votes.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that much of this voter disenfranchisement occurred in precincts likely to oppose the tax increase. There’s certainly no pleasure in questioning peoples’ motives, but considering the bizarre nature of the decision to use fewer voting machines in these precincts, it’s reasonable to question whether this decision was made to affect the outcome.

County leaders seem to have a cavalier attitude toward the voting problems they caused for so many voters. WIS-TV broadcast an interview with the director of the Election Commission in which she expressed doubt that people had really spent a quarter of their day waiting in line. “I need to make sure if there were really the six hours that they say it was,” said the director. “We’ve been getting different numbers.”

And when asked whether there were really enough machines available, she replied, “Yes, there were enough” – which seems to contradict everything we know so far about the election debacle.

In a separate WIS-TV interview, the county spokeswoman cited “unprecedented” turnout for the voting problems. But we now know that turnout was less than 2008, not more.

The people of Richland County deserve better.

The decisions we were asked to make on Tuesday were too important to be decided under a cloud of uncertainty and suspicion. These were decisions that impact our daily lives – from the tax rates they pay to our children’s education. To ensure that results are valid, Richland County should seek new elections – elections held in accordance with state law.

It’s never too late to do the right thing.

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