Politics & Government

Poll worker shortage leads to challenge in Woodruff mayor's race

By Allison M. Roberts

Spartanburg Herald-Journal

Long lines at the Boiling Springs High School, were common around Spartanburg County on Election Day.
Long lines at the Boiling Springs High School, were common around Spartanburg County on Election Day. Spartanburg Herald-Journal

Long waits to vote Tuesday caused in part by a shortage of poll workers in Spartanburg County led to a challenge of the results of the Woodruff mayor's race.

Woodruff’s current mayor, Kenneth E. Gist, was defeated by his challenger, Brad Burnett, the former mayor of Woodruff, by 18 votes.

Gist filed a formal protest Friday after the certified results were announced and asked the county to grant a new election. At a Saturday hearing before the Board of Voter Registration and Elections, Gist asked for a new election because he said the hours-long wait to vote caused some people to get frustrated and leave before they could cast their ballot.

“The long lines, that’s understandable, but the two- or two-and-a-half-hour wait, I just felt like with poll workers there that was uncalled for,” Gist said at the hearing. “We just seen some things that I feel (should permit) me and also Mr. Burnett to come back and do a re-election and make sure it’s fair and done properly.”

Several poll clerks testified about their experiences at their precincts, and all of them spoke of the long lines and shortage of staff that created long wait times for voters.

Gist told the board he felt the long lines caused voters to give up and go home. He said those were people who could have voted for him.

There are about 178,000 registered voters in Spartanburg County, said Henry Laye, director of Spartanburg County Registration and Elections. In a general election, there are supposed to be three poll workers for every 500 registered voters.

To properly staff every voting precinct in the county, Laye said they would’ve needed 1,068 poll workers. He estimated there were just over 500.

“That’s like going into Walmart and having 42 checkout lines open and two of them manned,” Laye said.

Laye said there were two major issues on Election Day that backed up voting: a shortage of volunteers and voters not being prepared when they got to the polls.

Several people who showed up to vote in Woodruff hadn't registered to vote or registered after the cutoff date, moved without updating their address or hadn’t voted in several years and lapsed in the system, Laye said.

That slows down the process, Laye said, and it causes frustration for everyone involved.

The board unanimously voted to uphold the election results. Gist declined to comment after the decision.

Burnett wasn’t at the hearing Saturday because he’s on vacation with his family. He said he’s pleased with the board’s decision. It was a tight race, he said, but he felt the board’s ruling was fair.

“I’m happy the commission looked at everything,” Burnett said. “There were well over 1,000 people who did wait in line and waited out the inconvenience in order to vote.”