Despite injunction, Richland County Elections Office presses on

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The Richland County Elections and Voter Registration office continues to press forward toward a special election as the paperwork is filed in court to stop it.

A special election in Blythewood is a week from Tuesday despite an injunction asking a judge to stop the actions of the elections board.

Interim Director Samuel Selph says the office has been served with the paperwork, but will continue to press forward and is ready for next week's election.

Selph told us he held an office meeting on Monday to discuss concerns with staff. Selph says since last Wednesday, he's been working to ensure the office can hold the special election.

According to Selph, the office staff has reviewed with him how the machines need to be charged along with going over how to check the results to ensure they match up and all votes are counted.

When we asked about the injunction filed by the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation, Selph said he's been contacted by two members of the Richland County Legislative Delegation.

"They told me to go ahead and look over and manage this office and from that aspect we don't have anything to do with that per se, but when we get some direction, legally, we will do what they tell us to do," said Selph.

Two measures are under consideration by the state Senate, SB 811 and SB 866, would make all combined boards legal -- just like the current make up of the Richland County board. It's action the state Election Commission stands behind.

"In this election environment, it's just inefficient for to have a totally separate voter registration operation and a totally separate election operation that's so closely related," said Chris Whitmire with the Election Commission. "The left hand needs to know what the right hand is doing and you need to have a single director who's accountable for everything that's election-related."

The Election Commission is neutral on whether it should be the county or state election commission with oversight of those offices. The legislature will discuss the issue this week. It won't be in time for next week's special election, but Selph has some assurances for voters, saying the mistakes from before won't happen again.

"In 2013, how do you not pick up a PEB that has 1,114 votes on it and put it in that machine where those votes can be recorded, you know human failure," said Selph. "You know that will not happen again."

The following is a statement from Garry Baum released to the media Monday:

"With over 23 years of experience within the county, state, and federal election community, I have worked to obtain a reputation of knowledge, honesty, and fairness.  Most any of the thousands of people who I have worked with will attest to this.  Recent allegations against me by the recently fired County director, who I worked with for three months, have given me cause to state correct and factual information about four items.

  1. In reference to my involvement in the November 6, 2012 election:

In 2011 when I was working at the State Election Commission, I was recruited by the previous county director to become the Deputy Director.  My main requirements, when hired, were to handle the election process to include working with candidates, train poll workers, and provide for a proper election process at the polls according to all state laws and procedures.  Seven elections, including all County municipal elections and a June primary and runoff, were conducted with no issues.  The November 6, 2012 election, as previously reported multiple times by multiple media, and investigated and determined by the Hamm Report, was a debacle.  Insufficient voting machines and non-working machines were the main cause of the numerous issues.  My direct staff and I worked in this election on training the clerks and poll managers and preparing the polling places.   As Deputy Director at the time, I took responsibility for this election, and the areas we worked diligently on.  I was not involved in the machine allocation or preparation.  To insinuate otherwise is incorrect.

  1. In reference to me unplugging voting machines to cause problems with upcoming elections:

Since 2004 when the State purchase (sic) the iVotronic voting machines, my staff and I have made it one of the training priorities to teach clerks and poll managers the importance of plugging in the voting booth to a working outlet and making sure the power source plug, commonly referred to as the "pigtail" was plugged in to the voting machine.  With these two electrical connections, the voting machine can operate on electricity and can continue to charge the voting machine battery in case of an electrical outage or use of the machine for curbside voting.  In every one of my hundreds of in-person training classes across the state and in the County, as well as years of training power point presentations provided to over 20,000 poll workers, it is documented in the importance of these electrical connections.  To insinuate that I would intentionally leave voting machines or the pigtails unplugged in any election in incorrect.

  1. In reference to any involvement of Senator Joel Lourie, my brother-in-law, with respect to the Richland County Election and Voter Registration Board's decisions:

Prior to my County hire, I discussed this issue with Joel.  We agreed that from day one of my hire, he would not be involved in any activity of the Board or personnel matters of the office other than his duties as a member of the County Legislative Delegation.  With my hire, this was more of a reason for his noninvolvement.   I am not aware of any time that Joel had any communication with the Board, any of the directors, or staff.  To insinuate that Joel had communication with the Board is incorrect.  To insinuate that the director was fired due to my forced involuntary resignation of my duties is incorrect.

  1. In reference to my not knowing my job as Deputy Director of Elections:

When I was placed in this position in January, 2013, an interim director was hired.  The staff, under my election supervision, conducted two quality elections with no issues.  As with any new position, there usually are duties that must be learned.  I did not know the Unity software which is used to prepare a portion of the voting process.  As a manager, I relied on a 20+ year state and county election staff professional with Unity knowledge to prepare the Unity software for all elections.  In testing for the 2013 City of Columbia and Town of Blythewood database, an error was not detected.  This error was since detected, and a correct database was available two days later.  This correct database was used to prepare these elections.  I was in the process of learning Unity when I was asked to involuntarily resign.  I was knowledgeable with the election process as can be attested to by most any of the 46 South Carolina election directors or hundreds of other statewide election professionals whom I have had the pleasure to work with.  To insinuate otherwise would be incorrect.

I take all of these matters very personally, as I have given over 23 years of my career to conduct fair and honest elections.  I am outraged by the recently fired director's allegations.  I am in consultation with attorneys about these comments."

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