New head of Richland County Elections touts staff training as preparations continue for upcoming races

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Published: Oct. 18, 2023 at 11:51 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - With election season underway in the Midlands, Travis Alexander, the new Richland County Director of Voter Registration and Elections, is looking forward, beyond some of the issues that the county has dealt with in recent years.

The Richland County Elections office has been plagued by problems from long lines to long lines to lost ballots for more than a decade.

Alexander, a former elections director in the upstate, takes the helm from former Interim Director Terry Graham, who still works in the office.

“I can’t speak toward the past, but I can speak toward the future,” he said.

Alexander said the elections office is well-trained, and he is confident that this election season in Richland County will be secure and efficient, citing the fact he has done about 90 percent of the training for the county’s poll workers himself.

“Just looking at the procedures and policies that the staff has been working toward, and just kind of honing in on those and the State Election Commission has also given some standard operating procedures and kind of taking those and basically creating a good foundation for our staff,” he said.

The problems with Richland County’s elections are well-documented.

In 2010, more than a thousand votes were not counted properly.

Two years later, voters said they waited up to six hours to cast their ballots.

In 2018, the county lost more than a thousand votes again.

Last June, 57 emergency ballots were put in the wrong bag by poll workers, which caused a vote certification hearing to be delayed.

The early voting period has begun for the special election to fill the late state Senator John Scott’s seat.

According to Alexander, poll workers are checking each day during this period to ensure that all ballots are accounted for, and cross-checking e-poll books against voting machines.

“We’re doing the daily auditing, we’re making sure that our poll managers are trained up,” he said. “When we do have to canvass the election the day after the election, everything’s going to be canvassed properly as far as making sure, you mentioned emergency ballots, making sure all the emergency ballots are accounted for, making sure all provisional ballots are accounted for. So we have a good checks and balances in place now I think that will eliminate any of those issues that you talked about.”

Last month, Richland County Council gave initial approval to a multi-million dollar project that would move the elections office, and the voting machines, into a new facility at the Columbia Place Mall.

County officials said that the office is on track to open in January of 2026.

Alexander says county administration is also in the process of moving voting machines and equipment from its current warehouse to a temporary space.

A federal memo showed the current location had insufficient lighting and security vulnerabilities.

Casey Forrester, who cast his ballot on Wednesday, said that these local elections matter.

“These Senate elections and these council elections are really important because those are the people that are closest to us, to the public,” he said. “We can call a county councilman, and he will come out and visit our neighborhood, or we can call a senator and make arrangements for them to come out and visit the neighborhood.”

Alexander said the county is well-positioned for the election with its poll workers.

Terry Graham, the previous Interim Director, said last year that some of the county’s issues in the past stemmed from a lack of poll workers.

Richland County Elections is fully staffed for the Senate District 19 special election.

However, the office would like to have about 50 more people sign up for the November municipal elections.

Anyone who is interested in serving as a poll worker is asked to contact the Richland County Elections office at 803-576-1533.

The early voting period for the Senate District 19 race runs until Friday.

Ballots may be cast at one of two locations: 2020 Hampton Street in Columbia, and across the street at 2011 Hampton Street.

Those same locations will be open for early voting in the county’s municipal elections, starting Monday, October 23.

A full list of precinct and polling locations for Election Day for the special election on October 24 is attached.

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