City turnout light around lunchtime Tuesday on mayoral referendum

From Staff ReportsDecember 2, 2013 

Poll workers at the Woodland precinct share a laugh with a voter as she signs in before casting her ballot in the referendum on which form of government the city should have.


UPDATED TUESDAY, 12:30 p.m.: Voter turnout is nearing 10 percent at the two wards at Kilbourne Baptist Church off Trenholm Road.

At Ward 25, which covers neighborhoods around Lake Katherine, 170 of 1,544 people had cast ballots around mid-morning Tuesday, said Rusty DePass, the poll manager.

At Ward 24, a precinct that includes residents who live in an area that abuts Forest Acres, 88 of 914 voters had cast ballots, DePass said.

Ward 25 experienced a minor glitch when a laptop that was supposed to be used to sign in voters did not have any names programmed into it, DePass said. Poll workers used the old paper system as a backup until elections workers came to feed the voter registration list into the computer.

Voters in the area are expected to vote against the referendum. Two men, Hugh Robinson and Cantey Heath, said Tuesday they did just that.

Heath’s wife declined to reveal her ballot.

"That’s why they have curtains," she said of the voting machines. "Mum’s the word."

At nearaby Woodland Park, Raymon Lark and Cora Adams cancelled each other's vote.

Lark voted in support of a strong mayor form of government, saying it would improve accountability in all areas of city government.

"It is a more general philosophy for me more than the individual who is mayor. I had to look beyond that."

Adams said she signed the petition to put the referendum on a ballot. But she knew then she needed to study more about the different forms of city government.

In the end, she voted no.

"I just didn't feel like a strong mayor would make it better," Adams said. "We need to work within the system we've got."

Woodland Park reported a decent turnout after morning voting.

More than 13 percent of he precinct's 1,747 voters had gone to the polls by 11:30 a.m., said Chrisandra Hayes, the precinct's clerk.

No problems were reported.

At the Meadowfield precinct, several voters had come to vote after their absentee ballots had been returned to their homes, said Peggy Binette, a poll worker.

Those people were sent to the Richland County Elections and Voter Registration Office to have their ballots counted, Binettte said.

Each of those would-be absentee voters had envelopes with yellow stickers on them that indicated they couldn't be delivered, Binette said. The problem was with the postal service, not the elections office, she said.

The Meadowfield precinct is next door to the Woodland precinct but its turnout was lower.

Of the 1,158 registered city voters, 97 had voted as of noon, Binette said.

Noelle Phillips

Absentee voting weak on mayoral referendum

The number of absentee ballots cast in Tuesday’s contentious strong-mayor referendum indicates that the passion of advocates has not translated into a lot of interest among typical voters.

Absentee voting usually is a benchmark of voter participation and a predictor of turnout on Election Day. But Columbians have not voted in a single-issue referendum on changing the form of government since 1949.

As of 5 p.m. Monday, 628 people had submitted absentee ballots, according to a tally from the State Election Commission. Richland County Elections & Voter Registration director Howard Jackson said his count was 627.

An additional 108 or 109 voters had requested absentee forms but had yet to return them to the county election office, Jackson said.

Those absentee numbers pale in comparison to the 2,566 absentees cast in the Nov. 5 mayoral and City Council election, or to the 8,623 cast in the April 2012 City Council election, where two incumbents decided not to seek re-election, records in the state election office show.

The number of absentees received as Monday’s workday ended was about the number of absentees that were missed by county officials in the Nov. 5 City Council races.

Activists on both sides of the strong-mayor issue have predicted low voter turnout – percentages ranging from single digits to the mid-teens. Turnout last month was about 20 percent, a sharp increase from the mere 12 percent in the spring 2012 council election.

Absentee ballots received by mail still can be counted as long as they arrive in the county election office by the time the polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jackson said.

The pace of absentee voting picked up Monday, as the opposing sides geared up for the only tally that counts: Voters who show up Tuesday to decide whether to cast off 64 years of government by a council that hires a manager to oversee day-to-day operations.

Monday, 170 absentees were submitted, said state elections director Marci Andino. Friday, 71 ballots arrived. Before Friday, the total absentee ballots received had been 387, which means the number almost doubled since the end of the workweek.

Andino’s office monitors absentees through a computerized tabulation log that tracks votes input by county elections officials.

Clif LeBlanc

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