Long lines, sporadic problems at Midlands voting precincts
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP/WIS) - Voters were lined up at precincts throughout the Midlands well before polls opened in South Carolina at 7 a.m. Those lines continued through lunchtime as sporadic issues with electronic voting machines have been reported.
At several polling stations, lines were wrapped around the building and into the parking lot as voters tried to get an early start on their day.
Absentee voting has broken the 2012 record, when nearly 395,000 people voted early. Nearly 463,000 people had voted by mid-day Monday. More than three million people are eligible.
All 170 seats in the General Assembly were up for election, but only 19 House members and five senators - all Democrats - face major-party challengers Tuesday. Fourteen other seats, where an incumbent either retired or was defeated in primaries, give voters a choice between Republican and Democratic opponents.
One particular polling station in Lexington County caused voters to wait in long lines to vote. Two precincts use Sandhills Middle School in Gaston. Five machines for one precinct were working, according to an election official. But for some time, only two of six machines for the other precinct were operational.
Lexington County election officials say the problem machines were not charging and they had to send technicians to repair them, which took about an hour or more. The precinct manager says the issue has been corrected.
Elections officials in Richland County assured citizens they are better prepared for this election and there will be no repeat of the 2012 election fiasco, when people waited several hours to vote.
According to state election officials -- the county did not deploy all of its machines in 2012, which resulted in long lines at precincts. Follow-up investigations found the county was supposed to have one machine for every 250 registered voters, but more than 100 of the county's 124 precincts four years ago did not meet that requirement.
However, going into the 2016 election Richland County Elections Director Samuel Selph said he is confident voters won't see the same thing happen as in 2012.
"We're prepared," he said. "We have 1,022 machines out in the field at 143 locations. All of our large precincts, we have about 42 precincts that's over 2,000 voters and we meet the state requirements as to one machine per 250 voters. And so far as doing what we're supposed to do, putting the planning into this process, we've done that."
The Richland County Elections and Voter Registration Office plans to provide media updates throughout the day on voting conditions.
Tuesday morning Selph reported his office was looking into a few reports of problems with machines and laptops, address issues and a few issues clearing machines. He said his office received reports of issues at 11 of the 143 precincts in the county. He said the cold weather is to blame and a few problems are always anticipated.
Voters have reported having various issues with touch-screen machines in some precincts. Some report machines not allowing them to vote in certain races. Others say the machines are placing checks next to the wrong candidates.
Despite concerns that some absentee voters haven't been recorded at polling locations, Selph said there is no concern of people voting twice.
"Usually those voters who voted by Friday were loaded onto the laptops that were sent to polling sites," he said. "Those voters who probably voted on Saturday, maybe those voters. We give those names to the poll clerk and they write those names down on the sign in sheet to make them aware they've already voted."
Absentee votes were up across the county, which he said could be an indication of larger than usual turnout, but not necessarily.
State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire told the Associated Press some long lines were reported in the early morning hours when polls opened, but most voters didn't encounter waits longer than an hour. Whitmire said the lines were long where voters wanted to cast their ballots prior to going to work and were not because of any issues with voting machines or poll managers.
Whitmire said a slight problem was reported in Horry County where poll managers had difficulty opening several machines, but they switched for a time to paper ballots. He says technicians arrived to solve the problem and the machines are back in working order.
Elections officials said they can't control voter turnout or the lines at the polls, so voters are warned to be prepared and be patient. Voters who encounter problems should report them to their county elections office.
Polls close at 7 p.m. Anyone in line when the polls close will be allowed to vote.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press and WIS.