November 6, 2013

Richland County buying 170 extra voting machines

Richland County Council agrees to buy new voting machines to prepare for June primaries, but balks at hiring $42,500 voter-outreach coordinator

Richland County’s election director is creating a new position of voter-outreach coordinator as part of efforts to prepare for the June primary.

Howard Jackson asked Richland County Council for money to buy 170 voting machines and associated equipment, enough to comply with state standards requiring one machine per 250 voters.

But when it came to covering the new $42,500 position, the council balked, trimming Jackson’s out-of-cycle budget request to $615,622.56 – an amount approved Tuesday by unanimous vote.

Jackson said he’ll find the money in the election office’s $1.2 million budget to fund the extra position he deems critical this year.

In an interview Wednesday, Jackson said the job entails organizing voter-registration drives, educating voters on 25 new precincts to be used for the first time in June and making sure citizens get S.C. voter-ID cards.

The outreach coordinator also will update election websites and send out information on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Jackson said those duties are divided now among the 15 people on his staff.

As for additional machines, council members said they didn’t have much choice but to dip into its $27 million in savings to meet the office’s needs after last year’s election debacle.

The request includes 25 portable voting machines for use at curbside to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Jackson also negotiated an 18-month warranty on the 170 machines, which are not “new” but rebuilt.

The iVotronic brand machines are no longer made, Jackson said. The county now has 947 of them.

“Anything we can put in place to assist in making sure voters have somewhat of a smooth process is a good thing,” said Councilman Torrey Rush, who objected to Jackson’s new voter-outreach coordinator.

“Once you approve a position, you’re sort of stuck with it,” Rush said.

Rush also expressed concern that county voting machines, selected by the state and purchased in 2004, have become obsolete and will have to be replaced before long.

Said Councilman Greg Pearce: “Until the state wants to replace all of them, we’re pretty much bound to continue using them.”

On another front, Jackson requested new warehouse space to store voting machines in a temperature-controlled environment.

Administrator Tony McDonald suggested holding off on that discussion for a year, when the county will discuss taking out a loan for building projects. McDonald said discussions were preliminary, so he did not know much the county might have to spend on a new warehouse.

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