Richland County had 185 fewer voting machines this November compared to two years ago despite 16,300 more people at the polls, according to an independent analysis from an elections expert released Friday.
Nearly three out of four precincts had fewer machines than two years ago, contributing to 12 percent of the 121,200 ballots cast after the polls closed at 7 p.m. this year, according to Duncan Buell, a University of South Carolina computer science professor who specializes in electronic voting systems. Just 2 percent of ballots were cast late in 2010.
The last person voted at 12:17 a.m. in the Keels precinct in Northeast Richland, according to Buell’s examination of Richland County voting machine records, obtained from the S.C. Elections Commission. Nearly 36 percent of voters at Keels cast ballots after 7 p.m. — joining 49 other precincts where 10 percent or more of people voted after 7 p.m. Only one precinct had more than 10 percent of late voters in 2010.
Buell’s findings come just before Monday’s meeting of the Richland County legislative delegation for a fact-finding hearing with county elections director Lillian McBride and county elections chairwoman Liz Crum about problems that led to waits from three to seven hours for thousands of voters, and difficulties in tabulating results that led to lawsuits.
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Buell said he shared his findings with the county delegation and state party officials. He declined to say what he thinks ought to happen with county elections leaders, saying he wanted to provide numbers to the anecdotes about voting woes.
Based on registration numbers and state law requiring a machine for every 250 voters, Richland County should have had at least 940 machines in this year’s election, Buell said.
But the county had only 628 machines — 23 percent below the 813 used in 2010 — with voter turnout 15.5 percent higher than two years ago. The problem was made worse when machines broke down in possibly dozens of precinct locations, compounding waits for voters.
State Sen. Darrell Jackson, a Democrat who chairs the Richland County delegation, said Friday that lawmakers reached similar conclusions to Buell’s findings.
Voters will learn why so few machines were in precincts at the Monday hearing, but Jackson declined to offer the explanations he heard.
“Something happened, and they (elections officials) will take responsibility for what happened,” he said. “Knowing what happened didn’t make me feel any better.”
Criticism has focused on McBride, who reports directly to the 15-member legislative delegation, which hired her in 2011 to run the county’s elections and voter registration office. She has not spoken publicly since Nov. 6.
Jackson said the delegation praised McBride two months before the November election for her handling of voter registration and the primary, but he would accept if a majority of the delegation voted to fire McBride. Crum told the delegation before the Nov. 6 election that she planned to step down when her term expires in March.
“We all understand that it was (a) mistake, and the elections board understands some mistakes were made,” Jackson said. “There are people who learn from their mistakes. I’m glad not every mistake I made did not end my career.”
Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, said he needs to hear a good explanation to not recommend removing McBride.
“My initial thought is that she should resign, but I want to hear the testimony,” Courson said. “I’m outraged. It was an election fiasco. Running an election is not rocket science. You just need to do the math.”