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Five years after disastrous election, this Richland Co. official is finally leaving

Then-Richland County elections director Lillian McBride, left, comforts supporters after she stepped down to a lesser position after the 2012 fiasco that left thousands in line for hours and prompted some not to vote.
Then-Richland County elections director Lillian McBride, left, comforts supporters after she stepped down to a lesser position after the 2012 fiasco that left thousands in line for hours and prompted some not to vote. FILE PHOTOGRAPH

The official widely blamed for Richland County’s bungled general election in 2012 will be retiring next year, almost 5 1/2 years after that historically disastrous balloting.

Lillian McBride must retire by June 30, 2018, from the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration office because of a state employment law that is sunsetting next year.

She has not decided on a specific departure date, according to her boss, elections director Rokey Suleman. He’s leaving that to her, he said Thursday.

McBride declined to discuss her departure, maintaining the silence she has employed since critics demanded her firing after voters waited in line for up to seven hours in November 2012. That was the same election that resulted in approval of the still-controversial 1-cent increase in the county’s sales tax to pay for transportation improvements.

The election day problems included too few voting machines and poll workers as well as missing ballots. Several lawsuits were filed.

Also leaving the elections office as part of an agency reorganization is Cheryl Goodwin, who oversaw the preparation and distribution of voting machines in 2012. She has retained those responsibilities.

“I’m not forcing them out,” said Suleman, who noted McBride approached him about leaving.

He said he has talked with both women for months as they approached their max-out employment dates. Suleman became elections director in May.

McBride made a singular public statement about the 2012 mess, blaming an unnamed agency worker for cutting the number of voting machines and deflecting answers to pressing questions.

After much public pressure, she was demoted to deputy director. She has never publicly answered questions about what went wrong, and declined to do so Thursday.

McBride had managed the county’s voter registration office before being named director of a consolidated voter registration and elections office. She had not overseen a general election before the 2012 disaster.

Her strongest critics wanted her fired on the spot. But McBride, whose backers include Congressman Jim Clyburn and members of the county’s legislative delegation, managed to hold onto her job.

Her $89,124 salary was a record at the time for a chief county election official in South Carolina. McBride is paid $77,584 in her current job.

The election fiasco is seared in the memories of many Richland County voters. Suleman said he routinely gets reminders in his everyday life and when he speaks to civic and other organizations.

“The reaction about 2012 is consistent with someone who has PTSD,” Suleman said. “That’s the analogy I use. We often have oversized memories of the bad things.”

Suleman lives with post-traumatic stress disorder because he was caught in a Taliban attack in 2014 in Afghanistan while he worked as an elections monitor. He watched children and one of his coworkers die, Suleman has said.

McBride and the rest of the election office staff have overseen smooth elections since 2012, including last year’s presidential contest, he said. That is a testament to the competence of employees who did the real work of running elections, Suleman said.

McBride’s post as deputy director is to be eliminated as part of Suleman’s reorganization of the office. He’s also working on a succession plan.

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