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Election officials say voters should have confidence in voting system vendor despite issue in Columbia runoff

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 8:34 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2021 at 9:28 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina State Election Commission said that voters can have confidence in the state’s voting system vendor going forward, despite the fact that a human error from the vendor caused disruptions in Tuesday’s Columbia runoff election.

The State Election said a software issue by the election vendor, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), led to some voters having invalid codes on their electronic poll books.

WIS and the commission received reports of voters being turned away as a result of this issue. However, WIS has not been able to independently confirm any of these claims.

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

These electronic poll books are used to look up voters, record participation, and ensure voters receive the correct ballot. This system, which aims to save voters’ time at the polls, has been in place since November 2020.

Chris Whitmire, the South Carolina Election Commission spokesperson, said voters should have confidence in ES&S’ ability to help administer future elections due to their long-standing relationship with the state as a “good partner and good vendor.”

They have been the statewide voting system vendor since 2004.

“My assessment is yes,” Whitmire said when asked whether voters should trust this vendor in the future. “ES&S has been a long-time partner of South Carolina, has always been very responsive to us with any issue that we’ve had, and they’ve told us that today and we trust that because we have a long partnership with them.”

Whitmire said the commission received a direct apology from the ES&S’ CEO Tom Burt, and assurances that this issue would not happen again.

In a statement, ES&S said in part “ES&S takes responsibility for the mistake and apologizes to election officials, the candidates and the affected voters. This was a human process error and will be prevented with additional quality control processes. We are confident that Richland County, along with all of South Carolina’s counties, will have successful future elections.”

Whitmire said that while the issues Tuesday fall on the vendor, they should have been discovered by the Richland County Office of Elections and Voter Registration by checking the file before the election.

Richland County’s Elections Director Alexandria Stephens said there is no way to test the election day electronic poll books for printing errors after they’re programmed, and that the issue had no effect on eligible voters being able to vote.

“I think we reacted pretty quickly to yesterday’s issue when we were first notified,” she said. “We were notified very early on, and we contacted all of the polling locations just to make sure they weren’t having any issues.”

Stephens said when the Richland County office trains its poll workers, they plan for situations like this.

“So there is emergency protocol for all procedures and all poll workers are trained on that.”

To address the issue, Whitmire said voters could have been given blank ballot cards so the poll manager could select the voting style manually.

He said the county should have been able to audible more quickly to this manual story, which was used in every election before 2020.

“We’ll be asking them about their poll manager training and how they’re covering these contingencies. You know, you can plan and train on how things should go, right? But ultimately in an election, something’s going to go wrong. And so it’s just as important to train on those contingencies. What do we do if?”

A successful hand count audit, ordered by State Election Commission Interim Executive Director Howard Knapp, was completed at the Richland County office on Wednesday. Though the hand count was completed by Richland County officials, commission staff was present to observe the tabulation of results and the hand count audit process.

“We wanted to make sure we did this process to show integrity of elections and again to make sure that all votes are accounted for,” Stephens said.

Hand count audits are recommended for municipal elections, but due to the issues in the runoff, it was mandated. Officials reviewed votes tallies from 10 of the city’s precincts, while they would typically only look at two. These precincts were selected by the State Election Commission.

The results of Tuesday’s election will be certified later this week.

RELATED STORY: Daniel Rickenmann elected Columbia’s next mayor

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