The 2014 general election was, well, ho-hum, in Richland and Lexington counties with only minor missteps and no God-awful lines reported.
Richland County election officials are seeking to recover from their 2012 fiasco while their Lexington County counterparts were braced for long lines because of a long, detailed ballot for a penny sales tax referendum.
“I call it a successful election,” Richland County interim elections director Samuel Self said within 45 minutes after polls closed at 7 p.m. “It sends a message that this office is on the road to regaining the confidence we lost because we were not doing things that we were supposed to.”
The county’s disastrous 2012 presidential election drove a chasm between voters and election officials because of insufficient voting machines, too few poll workers, lost ballots and suspicions of irregularities.
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“I don’t think that one, two, three elections will bring us back to pre-2010, 2012,” Self said. “I want to have a press conference where nobody brings up 2012.”
Two federal election monitors sent from the nation’s capital were here to watch Richland County’s balloting, Self said. One complaint was filed involving a poll worker giving incorrect information to a voter who did not have acceptable personal identification, Self said.
In a check of 28 jurisdictions from California to Florida, Richland was the only S.C. county selected by the U.S. Justice Department to be monitored for voting irregularities, according to the agency’s website.
No one said why the observers were here. But Richland’s 2012 fiasco was one good reason. And Tuesday was the first time the state’s Voter ID law was applied in a general election.
By 9:30 pm Tuesday, U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Bill Nettles said he knew of a complaint from Fairfield County. “As of now,” the federal prosecutor said 21/2 hours after polls closed, “I have had no reports that lead me to believe we have had any allegations of widespread irregularities.”
State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said he was unaware of any big problems in Richland County or statewide.
With 30 of the state’s 46 counties fully or partially reporting their results, the statewide turnout was 32.3 percent, Whitmire said at 10:40 p.m. Turnout in gubernatorial races during the past 16 years has ranged from 45 percent to 55 percent.
“The potential is the lowest turnout in recent history,” Whitmire said.
Turnout in Richland County was about 38 percent with 148 of 153 precincts reporting, Whitmire said. That’s with 92,707 votes cast.
Lexington County elections director Dean Crepes said turnout was about 49 percent there, with 77,874 people voting in an unofficial total.
“I think it went OK,” Crepes said after all precincts were counted. “There were a few problems and concerns.” Most of the troubles centered on voters who had moved but not updated their voting records.
He said he heard no Voter ID complaints.
Earlier in the day, Crepes said he feared a lengthy ballot initiative would slow down voters and cause excessively long waits that never materialized.
Crepes and precinct workers said people seemed to know how they would vote on the voluminous ballot initiative that sought to impose an extra penny sales tax for eight years. The sales tax increase – from 7 cents to 8 cents on the dollar – was intended to raise revenue for a large package of road improvements and other needs.
“I was concerned; they were kind of scaring us with that long list of projects,” Cayce United Methodist Church poll manager Julie Isom said at midday. “I think people are coming in prepared.”
Cayce voter Kathy Hughes, 89 and a resident since 1954, said it would not take her long to cast a straight Republican ticket and to vote no on the penny increase to the sales tax.
“I'm paying enough taxes already,” Hughes said. “The (tax) could hurt, especially the elderly.”
At the Rosenwald Community Center in downtown Lexington, 9-year old Eli Bostick said he was glad his mom got in and out of the voting precinct in just a few minutes. Lisa Bostick, 49, said the ballot was easy to get through.
“I was afraid it would take up too much time and I wouldn’t get to see my friend,” said young Bostick, who had a day off from school. “It didn’t take a lot of time.”
Staff writers John Monk, Roddie Burris, Joey Holleman and John Del Bianco contributed to this story.