Voting machine issues at Richland Co. precincts resolved, ‘happy’ officials say

A calibration issue resulting from aging technology caused ‘mismarking’ of votes for some ballots in Richland County voting precincts Tuesday morning.

By the time polls had closed on Election Day, Richland County officials said they were “happy with where we are.”

Early in the day, Richland County Elections Director Rokey Suleman told The State some precincts had problems with machines “mismarking the vote” — or switching the selection to another name — because of calibration issues with the aging touch-screen machines.

“If the calibration slips, you can touch it but the screen will select either above or below because of the calibration issue,” Suleman said. “The machines are just old, and we’re starting to see more and more issues with screen calibrations not being able to hold.”

In addition to calibration issues, Suleman said they were also having issues with battery failures and the batteries in machines not keeping a charge.

Suleman said that those issues were resolved by noon, if not sooner. He said there were no issues of note in the afternoon and evening as voters headed to the polls after 5 p.m.

“It went by relatively smooth as the day went on,” Suleman said. “There were no line issues in the afternoon caused by the voting machines.”

That was not the case in the morning.

Richard Kennedy, 67, said he voted at the Gregg Park polling site in Richland County. When he went to select the Republican candidate for an office, the machine selected the Democrat, he said by phone Tuesday just after leaving the polls.

He said he complained to poll workers, who cited the problems with calibration and canceled his vote on that machine and moved him to another.

“That’s a pretty serious calibration issue,” he said.

Poll workers shut down the faulty machine after he complained and moved him to another one that did work as it was supposed to, Kennedy said.

By about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Suleman said most machines were back up and running as techs worked out issues with the aging gadgets. Lines also dissipated at the polls, and voters were getting in and out faster, he added.

He said all of Richland County’s 990 voting machines were used throughout the course of the day, which helped resolve any problems.

This is not the first time Richland County’s machines have created headaches on Election Day. The machines in about a dozen Richland County precincts went down during the Republican special election runoff in August.

In 2012, Richland County voters waited four hours or more because the county office distributed too few machines, and additional votes were discovered after election results had already been verified, The State reported previously. The botched 2012 election prompted several changes for the 2016 election, including checklists to verify that each machine was ready, and the hiring of a troubleshooter for the machine manufacturer to be present on Election Day.

By 6:30 p.m., the election rush was dying down in Richland County, with the longest lines reaching about 30 people, Suleman said. By the time the off-work voters made it to the polls, most of the machine issues were resolved, he added.

Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the S.C. Elections Commission, told The State earlier Tuesday that all precincts are equipped with emergency paper ballots, and that poll workers are trained in how to use them.

Elections officials have reported problems involving machines at other South Carolina precincts.

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