Richland County – with minor glitches – pulls off smooth election

jmonk@thestate.comNovember 5, 2013 

  • Other election results

    Unofficial results of contested races:

    Blythewood

    One council seat (2 years, unexpired term): Robert Mangone, 178; Ernestine Middleton, 141

    Two council seats (4 years; top two vote-getters win): Ed Garrison*; 109; Robert Massa, 195; Paul Moscati*, 126; Tom Utroska, 187

    Arcadia Lakes

    Mayor: Mark Huguley, 222; Linda Jackson, 196

    Council (two seats; top two voter-getters win): Peter Chesney, 230; Don Davis, 260; Aaron Small (write-in), 107; Mike Smith (write-in), 120

    * incumbent

— Richland County’s Tuesday election – the first countywide election since last November’s massive voting breakdown – had a few hiccups but overall ran smoothly.

The last voters in the county’s 124 physical precincts cast ballots around 7:45 p.m. at the latest, said county elections director Howard Jackson.

The last precinct, Riverwalk, in St. Andrews, reported in at 9:36 p.m. And the last vote was counted at 10:14 p.m.

“Our ‘election mess’ has turned into an election success,” said an obviously relieved Elaine DuBose, one of five members of the Richland County Election Board, which last November oversaw one of the most bungled elections in modern state history. Some precincts had lines five to seven hours long.

“We have not received any complaints about anyone’s right to vote being violated,” said U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles, South Carolina’s top federal government prosecutor whose office monitored the vote Tuesday for violations of federal election law.

Although there were a few machine failures, Jackson said he had deployed 947 voting machines – some 300 more than were out last November – at the county’s 124 precincts.

Across the county, some 29,000 voters, or 12 percent, cast ballots on a $59 million library bond referendum. In Columbia and Blythewood, residents voted on city and town officials. Arcadia Lakes also held elections but ran its own.

Last November, widespread voting machine failures and other system breakdowns led to unheard of waits at most precincts. An untold number of people who had to get back to work or take care of children failed to vote because of the long lines.

But there was none of that Tuesday, including during the early morning crunch when many people try to vote on their way to work or school, Jackson said.

“Even at the 7 a.m., peak time, the longest wait time was about 30 minutes,” Jackson said.

Average time to vote was less than 10 minutes, he estimated.

Some people, however, said they saw a handful of people leave the Old Woodlands precinct early in the morning without voting. Old Woodlands is in east Columbia, behind the VA hospital, in City Council’s District 4.

Turnout was low in unincorporated areas, but voters turned in steady numbers at Columbia’s precincts, he said.

Rusty DePass, precinct clerk for Lake Katherine’s Ward 25 with some 1,500 voters, said Tuesday’s election was far different from last November’s.

“Back then, we had lines as long as any in the county. We didn’t have enough machines, and one machine didn’t work,” DePass said. Ward 25’s lines moved quickly Tuesday, he said.

Officials acknowledged some glitches:

• Some voters lacked photo identifications. In one case, a group of Benedict students who had tried to vote using their student IDs were sent across Harden Street to election headquarters, where they were issued voter IDs with photos.

• Voting was slower in precincts where voters had to vote on both a city election and the countywide library referendum. That’s because voters had to sign two different sign-in sheets – one for the county election, and one for the city. That’s what caused some problems in Old Woodlands. Jackson said he will work on streamlining the process and getting more laptops to precincts for checking registrations.

“Any Election Day, you are going to have minor issues because you deal with machines and people,” Jackson said.

But overall, Jackson said, the election was “uneventful, and we like uneventful, smooth elections.”

Elections officials said the recommendations offered by attorney Steve Hamm, a consultant hired last year to investigate what went wrong last November, were instrumental in having Tuesday’s election run smoothly. And new elections director Jackson, who replaced Lillian McBride, has been “competent and confident,” DuBose said.

Tuesday’s election was “a tune-up for 2014,” when far larger numbers of people will turn out to vote in state and federal elections, said county elections, commission member Samuel Selph. “We’ll definitely be ready.”

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