Richland County: "We will conduct a thorough investigation"

Published: Nov. 7, 2012 at 10:35 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2012 at 10:35 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Long lines, few machines, and lots of voter frustration were just a few of the issues the Richland County Election Commission dealt with on Tuesday as a higher than expected turnout caused headaches for voters and poll workers.

Voters from Pontiac Elementary School to Ridge View High School reported lines between 4 and 6 hours long.

So what happened that turned a fairly simple process into a test of patience?

We went straight to the head of the Richland County Election Commission to get answers.

Complaints rolled in just after the polls opened of too few voting machines for 4,700 registered voters at Ridge View High. State law requires 19 machines. We spotted 10, and one was broken, sparking arguments between poll workers and voters.

Poll workers told us the precinct was down to six machines for most of the day.

"They've been waiting here the same amount of time, so everyone is aggravated, but they feel that it's a need to stay here and vote," said Owens.

The story was exactly the same in Ward 25.

"I'm going home to get some hot dogs, Cokes and sell them to people in line, give the money to the elections commission," joked one Ward 25 voter.

We went to the Election Commission around midnight and watched as voting machines rolled in. We also found Elections Director Lillian McBride, who was unable to talk because she was beginning the process of checking the voter machines.

We spent the next two hours waiting for McBride and her staff to finish checking in voting machines. At 2:30 a.m., we watched the last machine come in, then went to find the director.

McBride said she was unsure what happened to cause fewer machines to be available, but she did say that enough machines were out for the election.

"We'll find out tomorrow and go over and see exactly what happened and whatever. We'll make sure we take care of it so it won't happen in the future," said McBride.

The South Carolina Elections Commission calls it ridiculous.

"There's no reason a voter should have to wait in line six hours to vote," said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the state Elections Commission. "That's unacceptable."

Especially when that wasn't the case four years ago and the turnout was closer to 2004, which also didn't see the problems of this year. The Election Commission heard from voters about the lack of machines compared to the numbers standing in line. There is a state standard.

"State law sets a standard of one voting machine for every 250 registered voters," said Whitmire.

That law also provides some leeway, allowing officials to be or as near there as to what maybe practical.

The state law bases it off of registered voters in that precinct," said Garry Baum with Richland County Elections Commission. "We also use other numbers such as historical voter turnout.  Depending on what elections are going on in what precincts."

If a county doesn't comply, we found there's no one enforcing the state law or punishing those who don't meet it.

"[Richland County] is going to have to take a close look at their plan for allocating voting machine, allocating poll managers, and other resources on Election Day," said Whitmire.

State Election Commission officials say every voting machine should have been tested in advance of yesterday with test ballots run.

The county denied our request to interview the elections director Wednesday morning or to provide details on what happened.

However, the county did provide a statement on its website, saying they made "every effort to get additional voting machines and to provide technical assistance to fix voting machines that went down."

"We will conduct a thorough investigation to determine what can be done in the future, whether it be to purchase additional machines or ask the legislature to establish additional precincts to reduce wait times or other measures that may be identified."

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