Richland County election officials on “high-alert” ahead of midterms, preparing for possible voter intimidation & threats

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Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 8:46 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - With election-related threats and allegations of voter intimidation on the rise nationally, local officials say they’re going to be on “high alert” Tuesday as voters head to the polls for the midterm elections.

“I’m always on high alert,” Terry Graham, Richland County Elections Interim Director, said. “So it’s just not because the election climate is the way it is right now. I always take it very serious.”

Under South Carolina law, anyone who intimidates, threatens, or coerces someone during the voting process can face a $10,000 fine or up to 10 years in prison.

Graham said election officials are working with state and local law enforcement to ensure this election goes smoothly.

The goal is that poll workers can safely do their jobs and voters feel comfortable casting their ballots at the more than 100 polling locations throughout the county.

Graham said he advised poll workers to be watchful for any disturbances because there are “always opportunists out there that want to disrupt the election system.”

“Because of the different things that have happened throughout 2020 and throughout this country, people are a little bit afraid,” he said. “I hadn’t really heard of anything here or people haven’t approached me and said, ‘Hey look, Terry, you know, I don’t feel comfortable.’ But it seems as though everybody feels comfortable and they’re feeling relaxed. But again, I encourage people, don’t get too comfortable, make sure you stay vigilant.”

Graham said the Richland County elections office is not aware of any credible threats.

Both the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department will be on standby should any issues arise, he said.

SLED, which investigates claims of election crimes, declined to comment on this story.

State law stipulates that Richland County deputies are not allowed to patrol polling locations unless they are called in for assistance by a poll manager.

The FBI Columbia field office is also on guard.

According to Kevin Wheeler, the agency’s spokesperson, its office has a special agent and analyst assigned to be election crimes coordinators.

“They lead our office’s efforts to assess allegations of election crimes and investigate threats and gather intelligence,” he said. “They serve as our lead points of contact for all of our election-related matters.”

That information is also shared with FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Wheeler said the FBI is committed to supporting election security partners and protecting South Carolinians during the voting process.

“We’re not really seeing anything that is of concern, but we certainly want people to call in any activity that they may find suspicious or anything that might be in violation of federal law,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Justice is concerned about armed people watching ballot boxes in Arizona.

Graham said he cannot remember any instances of severe voter intimidation like that in Richland County, but there was one instance during early voting at the Ballentine Community Center where a self-appointed poll watcher was being disruptive.

RCSD responded, but the man settled down and left without incident.

Despite the current polarized political climate, Graham said the rhetoric in the leadup to the midterms has been more toned down than he had anticipated.

“Actually I thought it would be a little bit more tension as far as early voting, but hadn’t seen any other than that one incident,” he said. “I have a good feeling that Tuesday it won’t be, but again, the poll workers know that if it comes to that point, whether it’s inside the polling location or somebody being disruptive on the outside of the polling location, contact the local sheriff’s department.”

Poll workers are well-trained, Graham said, and voters should have confidence that their ballot is safe and secure, and that they will be free to vote without intimidation.

Those looking to report possible federal crimes to the FBI can visit its complaint website, or call 1-800-CALL-FBI.

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