COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A record number of absentee ballots in Richland County made for a smooth day at the polls Tuesday, but the ballot counting process has taken even longer.
Richland County election officials spent all day Wednesday counting mail-in ballots.
As of 4 p.m., Richland County Director of Voter Registration and Elections Alexandria Stephens said election officials still had at least 500 UOCAVA ballots that were emailed that they needed to manually fill out ballots for, as well as some ballots that needed to be hand read.
“The others are not readable because of a stray mark, or something like that, and we have to transfer it to a clean ballot to make sure it’s readable,” Stephens explained.
Around 30 election officials in addition to Democratic and Republican party representatives are helping oversee that task.
“Transparency, honesty, fairness,” said Stephens. “I wanted to make sure they were here observing the process to make sure everything was done with integrity.”
Those votes still left to be counted could make the difference in who wins the race for State House District 75. Republican incumbent Kirkman Finlay has around a 280-vote lead over Democratic challenger Rhodes Bailey, but that could change. Attorney Chris Kenney is representing Bailey and spent all day Wednesday at the Voter Registration Office.
“I think it’s important we do not rush our election workers,” Kenney explained. “I think one of the most sensible things they did was to stop last night, get rest and resume the count this morning. We are not in a hurry because we are looking for an accurate result, and then we’ll see what happens.”
As of Wednesday evening, the State House District 75 race sits within a 1.75% margin, but if that gap narrows to less than 1%, a recount would be required by state law.
Richland County voter turnout exceeded 69% this election, which broke the previous voter turnout record of 65.24% in 2008.
Only 19% of Richland County’s registered voters cast their ballot on Election Day, while 50% chose to vote absentee.
“It’s record-breaking,” explained Stephens. “I’ve never seen so many people come out for early voting, but it’s awesome. I’m glad so many people turned out early and got it out of the way. Yesterday, the lines weren’t so long, and overall, it was a smooth process.”
Richland County’s vote totals on the State Election website show 99.33% of precincts reporting, and Director Stephens says that number will not change until Friday’s provisional ballot hearing when those votes are counted, and all votes are certified.