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Election Officials: Human error led to disruptions during Columbia runoff election

Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 8:47 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2021 at 7:44 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - - The South Carolina State Election Commission said a series of mistakes caused by human error led to disruptions at the Columbia general election run-off polls Tuesday morning.

It released a statement that outlines how the election system vendor, Election Systems & Software, sent incorrectly to the Richland County elections office for its electronic poll books.

The South Carolina Election Commission spokesperson, Chris Whitmire, told WIS electronic poll books look up voters, record participation, and ensure voters receive the correct ballot. But Tuesday morning, the system produced an invalid code for some voters.

“Some voters didn’t have ballots brought up on the device because it was a style not recognized,” Whitmire said. “The Richland County Election Committee should have caught that before it was used in the election to make sure everything was correct.”

Whitmire says voters could have also been given blank ballot cards so the poll manager could select the voting style manually, which is how it was done in every election prior to November 2020.

WIS and the commission received reports of voters being turned away from voting. WIS has not been able to confirm any cases of this taking place.

During a 9:30 a.m. news conference, Mayoral Candidate Daniel Rickenmann claimed his campaign was aware of “two dozen” voters who had been turned away.

Whitmire said ultimately all precincts moved to the manual style, but an exact timeline on the shift is unclear.

WIS visited four precincts the Rickenmann campaign raised concerns about between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.. Voters at the time said there were no issues.

In a statement, SEC said it is unacceptable for any voter to be turned away without having the opportunity to vote, and emergency hand-marked ballots should have been available to voters. Emergency ballots will always be counted on election night with all other ballots cast during the election, according to the SEC.

The commission plans to follow up with the Richland County office to ensure no voters are turned away in future elections.

“If you weren’t able to vote this morning, then go back to your polling place before 7 p.m. and cast your ballot,” Whitmire said.

The statement also read in part:

While this election is not a statewide election, given the nature of the issues in Richland County today, SEC Interim Executive Director Howard Knapp has ordered a hand count audit of this election. While the hand count must be completed by Richland County, SEC staff will be present to observe both the tabulation of results and hand count audit process.

Whitmire said the audits traditionally take place the day after an election.

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