June 10, 2014

‘Hiccups’ but nothing major for Richland elections office

Voting machine problems surface early at two precincts in Richland, one in Kershaw

In its first major test since the 2012 general election fiasco, Richland County encountered voting problems at 25 of 149 precincts as the primary election launched Tuesday morning.

But officials said those issues had been resolved by early afternoon. Samuel Selph, the county’s interim elections director, characterized the problems as “hiccups’’ that caused some initial delays in voting.

Selph said Tuesday’s issues were minor compared to problems of the 2012 general election, in which voters waited in line seven to eight hours because of malfunctioning voting machines or not enough machines.

“Nothing has happened to this point that you can compare with anything that happened in 2012,’’ Selph said during a noon session with the media. “Yes, we’ve had hiccups, but people are voting. Nobody has walked away.’’

Selph said in 2012 the county made a “colossal mistake,’’ but he doesn’t see those types of issues surfacing in the 2014 primary. He noted that of the 25 precincts that encountered problems, only about half involved problems with voting machines or other things within the county’s control.

In a few cases, poll workers did not show up; in others, poll workers mistakenly delayed allowing people to vote because they could not get a printout associated with clearing voting machines. Selph said they did not have to delay voting while waiting for the printout, and the problem was corrected.

Problems with voting machines and staffing delayed the scheduled 7 a.m. start of voting at Mallet Hill and Ward 14 precincts, and issues with the new laptops used to check in voters have slowed the process in a few precincts, Selph said. But none of the problems should have kept people from voting, he said.

“We didn’t expect it to be flawless,’’ Selph said, noting that voters are rightfully sensitive to watch for voting problems.

Selph expected some poll workers not to show up during the summer vacation period, and he said no precinct was “terribly undermanned.”

He also anticipated some voting machines problems. “It’s just like a school bus, when you start them up for the first time in three months, sometimes things don’t work,” Selph said.

The differences between Tuesday and the general elections fiasco of 2012, when people waited for hours and some gave up and went home, were the low numbers of people voting in the primary and the additional voting machines deployed to busy precincts.

Voters called The State to report several voting machines were out of commission at both Shandon Baptist Church and E.L. Wright Middle School, but in each case, there was no wait to vote.

At Oakwood precinct in Forest Acres, no problems were reported and 120 people had voted by noon.

Amanda Loveday, former executive director of the state Democratic Party and now spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Clyburn, said voters at Ward 14 when the doors opened at 7 a.m. were told machines weren’t working and they weren’t going to allow paper ballots. Voters reported the machines were up and running by 8 a.m.

Multiple tweets indicated Polo Road Elementary wasn’t open when voting began at 7 a.m. Selph said there were problems with machines at Polo Road, but social media made them sound worse than they were. “You have little issues, and people get on the internet and start tweeting, and it turns into a big thing,” he said.

Voting was light at most poll locations. Only one car was in the parking lot at the Cromer precinct in the Oak Grove area of Lexington County at 7:15 a.m., and 18 people had made it to the voting booths and there was no line at the neighboring Oakwood precinct.

The S.C. Election Commission also received reports that voters showed up at 7 a.m. to Camden Middle School in Kershaw County and found the doors still locked. When the doors were opened a few minutes later, the voting machines weren’t working. The voters were allowed to use paper ballots, said commission spokesman Chris Whitmire.

Joey Holleman and Sammy Fretwell


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