The addition of precincts, equipment and pollworkers should add up to trouble-free June 10 primaries in Richland County, election officials say.
“I feel good. I think it’s going to run well,” said Patrick Nolan, a retired USC professor who runs a Forest Acres precinct. He concurred with the assessment of fellow pollworkers that they are well-prepared for voting in two weeks.
Officials at the elections office – still smarting from the fiasco of November 2012, when voters were outraged by long lines, misplaced ballots and a lack of accountability – say they’ve put new safeguards in place.
“We have just buckled down and tried to look back – 2012, 2013 – and tried to find those things that did not play so well,” said Samuel Selph, who became Richland County’s interim elections director in February. “So what we’re doing is trying not to repeat the past.”
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Many voters will be scrutinizing the day’s events, political consultant Shell Suber said.
“At some point, you’ve done such a bad job that people are going to blame bad weather on you. They may have reached that point,” he said.
It’s important to note that thousands of suburban voters have been assigned to new polling places, and this primary will be the first time they are used.
The 25 precincts, created to shorten long lines in suburban areas, are sure to generate confusion among some voters, though the election office sent out notices to affected voters last month.
And despite the additional precincts, 13 of the county’s 149 polling places still have more than the state benchmark of 2,500 voters, Selph said. The county’s largest precinct, Longcreek, with 3,520 registered voters, will have 15 voting machines and 13 pollworkers – more than enough, Selph said.
The folks on the front lines say voters should see other improvements once they enter their local schools, churches and community centers to cast their ballots. The county has added more laptops to check voters’ registrations – there are at least two at each polling place now – and has recruited more pollworkers for every precinct, election officials said.
Pollworkers, some of whom have volunteered to work every Election Day for decades, say election officials have ramped up the required training, too.
With the addition of more than 360 new pollworkers, lines should move quickly, said Barbara McNeil, a 30-year volunteer in charge of the Woodfield precinct, at Richland Northeast High School.
“Before ... if there was a question with somebody voting, it would hold up the line,” she said. Now, someone else can work with them.
“Everything should move very smoothly,” she said.
Among the changes in Richland County:
• The state-required number of voting machines is being used – one machine for every 250 voters.
Selph said preventative maintenance has ensured that 1,087 machines are in working order.
In addition, the county will have a voting machine equipped for blind voters at each precinct.
• The number of on-call voting machine technicians on Election Day has been doubled, to 30 people.
Each technician is responsible for voting machines at five precincts, and Selph said the techs will be stationed 10 to 15 minutes away from their assigned precincts. Back-up voting machines are available, should they need them, he said.
• Poll managers no longer sign in voters by flipping through paper registration books; they all have been issued laptops.
Nolan, who manages the South Forest Acres precinct at Crayton Middle School, said computerized voter lists will save time. Plus, if voters show up at the wrong precinct, pollworkers quickly will know where to send them because they can look up their name in the countywide voter registry on the laptop.
• Pollworkers have clear instructions for dealing with people who show up to vote without a picture ID, allowing them to vote by paper ballot.
“They have revamped the training manual, and we’re accepting more forms of ID now,” said McNeil, the clerk at Woodfield. “We have a picture of what is accepted in the manual, in color, so if anyone doesn’t understand, we have something to show them.”
• Also, at the end of the day, officials have come up with a new way to make sure no electronic votes go uncounted, Selph said.
The box that records votes at each precinct will be put in a designated cubbyhole so it will be easy to see that they’re in. “We call this ‘simple technology,’” he said.
Barbara Walker, who has worked elections for 15 years or more, said she took an online training test last month that confirmed she knew the ropes.
“That’s something new, to have to take a test and pass it,” said Walker, who’s assigned to the Spring Valley West precinct at the Jewish Community Center. “And it’s good; it does prepare you.”