Richland Co. votes still being counted after problems - - Columbia, South Carolina

Richland Co. votes still being counted after widespread polling problems

Voting line at Dutch Fork M.S. extends to the street (Source: Steve Jones via Send it to 10) Voting line at Dutch Fork M.S. extends to the street (Source: Steve Jones via Send it to 10)
Faith United Methodist Church on Sunset Dr. Faith United Methodist Church on Sunset Dr.
Election officials work to count votes in Richland County. Election officials work to count votes in Richland County.

Long lines, few machines, and lots of voter frustration was the story on election day in Richland County and as the sun came up on Wednesday, a portion of those votes had not yet been counted.

The very last voting machine rolled into the county elections commission at 2:22 this morning, which is almost seven and a half hours after the polls closed. The final vote in Richland County was cast after midnight while some races were called well before that.

Election officials had approximately 40,000 votes to count Wednesday morning.

Officials said Tuesday night they had counted 4,077 paper ballots when their only scanning machine broke. A technician had to fix the machine before the counting count continue.

Officials say the machines that were not tallied overnight had dead batteries or were not closed out properly. Before being counted, a technician has to go in and close all of them out before they can get the votes off the machines. All the machines have a redundancy backup so the votes will not be lost.

County election commission director Lillian McBride said early Wednesday morning that she felt there were enough machines deployed throughout the county. McBride, whose yearly salary is $86,394, also said officials were still checking to see if, in fact, people waited up to 6 or 7 hours in line at the polls.

On Wednesday afternoon, a member of the Richland County Public Information Office said the election commission's primary concern was to complete the election process. "An audit will be conducted on Friday regarding this election, and once we have accurate data to share, you will be welcome to that information.," wrote Justin Martin.

State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire says Richland County was the only one where serious problems were reported.

Richland County Democrat James Smith is calling for accountability by the office, saying he predicts a series of hearings to look into how this election was managed. Smith says the integrity of the numbers is of the utmost importance.

He also wants to know why the law was ignored to provide an adequate number of machines for each precinct. Smith also suggested the machines need to be updated with newer models for future elections.

On Tuesday, most precincts in Richland County were packed with anxious and frustrated voters who came out early, but ended up waiting anywhere from just an hour, to nearly six hours to cast their votes.

Some voters even had to give up and leave without voting.

In Richland County's 124 precincts, there were approximately 1,000 machines spread throughout the county to serve the 224,000 registered voters, according to Richland County spokesperson Stephany Snowden. She said the number of machines was the same as in 2008. She also said it appears to be a record turnout.

"I know for these folks that are in line, it's probably kind of like a problem for them, but again, this is a good problem to have," said Snowden on Tuesday. "The one thing I would say is, for some of the folks that may have complained, which, of course they're our citizens and I really respect their opinions, but get involved in the process, come and volunteer for out next big election in four years."

Some precincts had thousands of voters with only three to four polling machines. The county says these problems come when turnout reaches record levels.

At the polling station at Dutch Fork Middle School, voters encountered a line extending to the street Tuesday morning.

Poll workers there said that they had fewer machines at that precinct so they could spread more throughout the county.

Election workers said they usually have 10 to 15 machines. They found out on Friday they would have fewer and operated most of the day with only four. Around 4 p.m., more machines were delivered to the site to bring the total to eight.

3,067 people registered to vote at that precinct.

Snowden said all 17 voting machine technicians the county had were out working to repair machines throughout the county.

The polling station at Pontiac Elementary School, was down to one operational voting machine by noon. Shortly before 3:00, seven machines were operational. Snowden said machines had to be audited, verified, and certified at the Richland County Election Commission before being deployed. 

On Wednesday Governor Nikki Haley's spokesman released a statement. "We absolutely support any efforts Richland County and its legislative delegation undertake to improve upon what happened at some polls yesterday - and to make the voting process more efficient and smoother," wrote Rob Godfrey. "As we have always said, we want more people voting and not less, and it certainly shouldn't be a burden upon them to do so."

WIS is working to find out what happened in Richland County and what is going to be done to improve the experience for voters in the future. Be sure to tune in this afternoon starting at 4 p.m. to see what answers our investigative team gets.

Copyright 2012 WIS. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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