Editorial: Richland elections chief should fire the employee who failed to count absentee ballots

December 8, 2013 

GERRY MELENDEZ — GERRY MELENDEZ/GMELENDEZ@THESTATE.COM Buy Photo

— RICHLAND COUNTY elections chief Howard Jackson not only should reveal who failed to ensure that more than 1,100 absentee ballots were counted in the Nov. 5 election. He should fire that person.

As much as we dislike the notion of people losing their jobs, after the disaster of Nov. 6, 2012, there is absolutely no margin for error, particularly those that involve basic, careless mistakes that lead to voters being disenfranchised. If Richland County is ever to regain trust in and integrity of its election process, Mr. Jackson must act swiftly and decisively to send an unequivocal message that this is a serious matter. It’s a matter that can’t be handled quietly or behind closed doors; the public has the right to know who erred as well as the action taken.

While Mr. Jackson declined to say who was responsible or what actions he might take, he did acknowledge that absentee balloting is the responsibility of his predecessor, Lillian McBride, who was given another position in the office following her resignation last year.

If Mr. Jackson can’t or won’t act, then the elections board should direct him to do so and then rethink whether he is the right person for this job. While managing the office and elections is essential, a primary element to the new director’s job following the 2012 mess is to restore voter trust and confidence; that means staging smooth elections in which every vote cast gets counted.

It is completely unacceptable that Richland County election officials would make such a gaffe this soon after the fiasco of 2012. After that disaster — and considering this was Mr. Jackson’s inaugural election — you’d think that no stone would be left unturned to ensure that the next election would go smoothly. And, frankly, election officials promised as much leading up to the Nov. 5 municipal election as well as a countywide library referendum.

Did we expect a flawless election? No. Unexpected things happen. But never did we imagine that elections staff would fail to fulfill its ultimate purpose: to count all votes to determine an outcome.

It is disturbing that such a grievous mistake took place during a routine — is there any such thing in Richland County anymore? — local election that hardly put pressure on the system.

The ultimate blame for all of this rests squarely with the Richland County legislative delegation and the rest of the lawmakers at the State House. Their insistence on meddling in elections — at the expense of county taxpayers at that — is outrageous. The Richland legislative delegation appoints the commission — a board it can’t remove — that oversees elections. It was the delegation that merged the election and voter registration offices and hired Ms. McBride, who as director in 2012 oversaw perhaps the worst election debacle in modern S.C. history.

Some Richland lawmakers understand the need to make changes. We can only hope that this latest flub puts lights a greater fire under them and others to push even harder next legislative session to get all elections placed under the State Election Commission or, at the very least, the direction of the county officials forced to pay the bills. There is no time to lose.

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