A federal judge will decide whether to toss out a lawsuit asking for federal oversight of South Carolina’s purchase of new voting machines, at a cost of up to $60 million.
After a nearly two-hour hearing in Columbia, U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs said she would make a decision within 10 days.
Childs could dismiss the lawsuit, which asks for a court order requiring the S.C. Election Commission to buy new, high-security voting machines. Or she could let the suit proceed.
During Tuesday’s hearing, S.C. Assistant Attorney General Wesley Vorberger, representing the S.C. Election Commission, told Childs the lawsuit is unnecessary. The Election Commission, he said, already is seeking bids for new hacker-resistant voting machines for use in the 2020 election.
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“We believe the case is moot because of this,” Vorberger told the judge, saying the two South Carolinians who sued the Election Commission last summer — demanding new, more secure voting machines — no longer have an issue because new machines will be purchased.
Last summer, former state Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, and Mount Pleasant businessman Frank Heindel sued the Election Commission and its executive director, Marci Andino.
The two contend their constitutional rights are being violated because of the antiquated voting machines used in S.C. elections. Those machines, bought in 2004, produce no paper trail of ballots cast, could be hacked and are vulnerable to interference by Russians or others, the lawsuit said.
But Vorberger told Judge Childs that claims by Leventis and Heindel of being harmed by the old voting machines are based on “speculative” and “abstract” fears.
“The only thing this court can do is say, ‘Hey, Election Commission, you really need to issue a (request for bids),” Vorberger said. “Well, they are already doing that.”
However, attorney Larry Schwartztol, who is representing Leventis and Heindel, told Childs that his clients’ concerns about their votes aren’t speculative at all. Flaws and security failures in South Carolina’s voting machines are well documented, and have been recognized by the U.S. House and Senate Intelligence committees, Schwartztol said.
The Election Commission’s move to seek proposals for new machines “is a step in the right direction but only the first step,” Schwartztol told the judge.
The Election Commission formally asked the Legislature Tuesday to appropriate $60 million to buy new voting machines.
But, Schwarztol added, no one knows whether legislators will OK that money. “We don’t have the luxury of time” before the 2020 elections, he told the judge.