Richland elections board member presses for more openness

dhinshaw@thestate.comDecember 18, 2013 

Samuel Selph

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A member of Richland County’s election board broke with convention Wednesday, speaking up to say he was “devastated” to find the office the board oversees did not count more than 1,000 absentee ballots in the county’s November referendum.

“The people of this county have a reason and a right to be outraged,” said Samuel Selph, the newest member of the five-person election board. “We failed, but we are going to get this done.”

After a 11/2-hour private meeting to discuss “personnel-related matters,” Selph and chairman Allen Dowdy said the board is continuing to evaluate the election office’s leadership and staff.

The board called director Howard Jackson to join them about halfway into Wednesday’s closed-door meeting. Dowdy announced no action was taken after a discussion about “checks and balances.”

Selph would not respond when asked whether Jackson had received his six-month evaluation yet.

Selph directed his comments about November’s mistake in the absentee totals to reporters and other members of the public, who then approached him at the dais.

Selph, appointed by local legislators in June, was quietly reminded by longtime board member Adell Adams that questions were supposed to be directed to Dowdy. Still, he continued to talk as other members filed out of the room.

“I impressed on all the board members that we should come out and have a conversation,” he said. “If we just go in that back room back there and hold our meeting, nobody knows what’s going on. ... We need to be open.”

Every meeting in recent months has started with an executive session lasting about an hour, with the board taking no action afterward.

Selph said the board had done everything in its power to ensure a smooth election.

“It seems when we get one thing worked out, something else pops up. ... This is not rocket science,” Selph said. “We only have two or three elections a year. Can’t we do that?”

Selph said he was satisfied – “to this point” – at safeguards Jackson put into place after an audit by the State Election Commission found 1,114 absentee ballots were overlooked in November. After that mistake, Jackson pledged his office would institute a policy of pre-certification audits to ensure all votes are counted before the tally becomes official.

Jackson told the board that his office’s audit of the Columbia strong-mayor referendum earlier this month was “clean.”

He also said Lillian McBride was not responsible for the “tabulation” of absentee votes in November. McBride was Jackson’s predecessor and is now in charge of absentee voting.

Pete Kennedy, a poll worker who always sits in the front row at board meetings, raised his hand to ask Jackson if the employee responsible for uncounted absentee votes had been given additional training or new duties.

Jackson would not answer, saying that was a personnel matter.

Kennedy persisted. “I have no idea who was involved, and don’t care to know,” he said.

Jackson again refused to answer.

“We as citizens will still wonder,” Kennedy said.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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