The Richland County Voter Registration and Elections office will not get any additional funding after telling county leaders it will run a deficit of more than $1 million before July.
County Council split evenly Tuesday night on whether to grant $229,000 to the elections office to go toward required maintenance and licensing fees for voting equipment along with machine batteries, printers, phones and other supplies elections director Samuel Selph has said his office needs.
In a tie on the final vote on the matter, the request was denied. Council members Julie-Ann Dixon, Norman Jackson, Paul Livingston, Joyce Dickerson and Damon Jeter voted in favor of funding the $229,000. Council members Seth Rose, Bill Malinowski, Greg Pearce, Torrey Rush and Jim Manning voted against it.
A subsequent try at granting about $138,000 to the office – enough to cover the required annual $106,000 maintenance and licensing fees for voting equipment – also failed.
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Elections and voter registration were granted more than $1.2 million in the county’s 2015-16 budget, less than half the amount the office requested.
In late February, the office came to county leaders requesting an additional $1.2 million to get it through the remainder of the budget year, which ends in June. That request later was lowered to just more than $1 million.
Some council members, however, responded skeptically to the request and questioned the responsibility of the office’s spending. Council members have demanded an audit of the elections office.
On Tuesday, council members continued to question why a cost such as maintenance and licensing fees – which are necessary to run voting machines, Selph said – was not accounted for in the office’s original $1.2 million budget.
Licensing fees are due at the beginning of the financial year, around July, Selph said.
“It would seem to me that that would have been paid already,” Councilman Bill Malinowski said.
Selph said the office had to shift money from other items in its budget to pay for the maintenance and licensing fees.
Despite questions along those lines, some council members lobbied to give the office at least enough cash to cover the cost of maintenance and licensing fees, saying the council has a duty to make sure its residents can vote in elections.
“Regardless of how we feel about the budget for the elections commission, at the end of the day, it’s the public we serve,” Councilman Norman Jackson said. “I will not take a chance with the citizens of Richland County to be underserved because the elections process is not properly run ... because we as a council decided that we disagree with the need of the request from the elections commission.”
Because the request failed on council’s third and final vote, it will not come back before council.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.