Richland elections | uncounted ballots

Richland elections board apologizes for uncounted votes, says it is evaluating staff

ccope@thestate.comNovember 26, 2013 

— INSIDE

Richland’s election board on Tuesday apologized for the 1,114 absentee ballots that went uncounted in the Nov. 5 election and indicated that whoever made the mistake might be held accountable.

The five members of the Richland County Voter Registration and Election Commission issued an apology to county and city residents in the form of a letter to the editor of The State newspaper.

“I would like to offer my sincere apology to the citizens of Richland County for the most recent mishap of the Election Office,” chairman Allen Dowdy said in the letter submitted by him and Adelle Adams, Elaine DuBose, Samuel Selph and Herbert Sims. “We ask your patience as we evaluate the leadership and staff of this office.”

Separately, Tuesday morning, the Municipal Election Commission prodded elections director Howard Jackson for more details about the mistake involving 1,114 absentee votes not counted in the library tax referendum. Because of overlapping precincts, that meant at least 632 absentee votes in City Council elections went uncounted as well.

The machines and equipment used to register those votes prior to Election Day were available to election workers because people cast those absentee ballots in advance, Jackson said.

The “personal electronic ballot,” or PEB, containing those missed votes just didn’t get counted, Jackson said.

“We had everything in place to do this, and it just didn’t happen,” Jackson said.

The Municipal Election Commission, including chairman Byron Gipson, Jay Bender and Susan Kuo, asked Jackson, who answers to county board members, to clarify the foul-up in the last election that caused the ballots to not be counted.

The Municipal Election Commission had no role in the Nov. 5 election but wanted to know more about what went wrong because of the upcoming Dec. 3 referendum on a strong mayor form of government in Columbia.

On Nov. 5, there was a check-in table for the clerk where PEBs were to be checked-in and then given to a runner who was to deliver them to the elections center to become part of the tabulation, Jackson said.

After that is when things went wrong, Jackson said.

The PEB is not missing, Jackson said – it just didn’t get counted. He consistently has said he will not publicly identify who was responsible for that or whether that person would be held responsible.

In the next election, all PEBs will be in an inbox/outbox system, and will have slots indicating whether they have been read by a tabulator, Jackson said.

There also will be an internal precertification audit in which PEB data will be compared to flashcard data, he said.

A precertification audit allows discrepancies to be noticed before an election is certified.

The state does not require precertification audits for all elections, but Jackson said as long as he is Richland County elections director, they will from now on be required for each election, no matter how small.

Jackson summarized the Nov. 5 election by saying there was good preparation for the election, an “uneventful” day, but there was a system breakdown in tabulation.

With the new steps in place for the Dec. 3 strong-mayor referendum, the public can expect a clean precertification audit and post-certification audit, he said.

The issue of the missed ballots in the Nov. 5 election “will never happen again under my watch,” Jackson said.

Reach Cope at 803-771-8657 or on Twitter @cassielcope.

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