Proposal to pay $50 million for better voting machines at SC polls

Published: Aug. 27, 2018 at 9:00 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 28, 2018 at 11:23 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There are millions of dollars of taxes collected that are unspent and lawmakers will decide what to do with them.

Here's a plan for the ballot box: to spend $50 million to replace old, outdated voting machines in South Carolina.

There are 13,000 voting machines some call antiquated. One state representative goes as far to call them unreliable. But the commission says $50 million may not replace all 13,000 machines, but it could at least make a better backup system - a paper trail of votes.

The right to vote is the backbone of democracy. Some feel the system in South Carolina needs adjustment - worth $50 million taxpayer dollars.

"Ballots are the currency in which we purchase democracy," said Rokey Suleman II with Richland County Voter Registration, and Elections. "So, we have to treat that ballot as secure as we do any sort of currency, and we have to treat it like a bank vault and a cash drawer at a store."

Suleman, who is in charge of elections in Richland County, says he's pushing for changes like new software, and a paper trail to better audit votes as a back-up in case of malfunction.

"So, it's important for us to have the highest security possible to make sure that the citizens have faith that their ballots are being cast and counted properly," Suleman said.

Budget writers in the Statehouse will have to vote on whether to spend the $50 million on a new system. There are 13,000 voting machines in the state.

"I think we need to be clear on the fact that right now, no one should have any faith on the current machines that we use to vote," Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Richland) said.

Some of those in charge of hearing election concerns are impassioned on updating the machines. There's even been a lawsuit filed against the commission alleging security is at risk because of the old outdated machines.

"Our elections are sacrosanct and we need to protect them," Rep. Rutherford said. "We're not doing that with the current system that we have in South Carolina, because the machines are simply outdated."

Meanwhile, Richland election leaders push for a new system because the old one is costing them $115,000 each year to replace parts, alone.

The money for machines could come as early as January or as late as July, but the Election Commission says the plan is for a new system by the general election in 2020.

The statement says:

It is encouraging that the General Assembly is talking about providing the necessary funding to modernize the state's election system. We hope they follow through. If they do, the State Election Commission (SEC) must procure machines and build systems that guarantee South Carolinians' constitutional right to have their vote accurately counted. To accomplish that, four things are necessary: secure voting machines; a voter-verified paper record of every ballot; mandatory, robust audits; and comprehensive cybersecurity training for all election staff," said Larry Schwartztol, an attorney with the group Protect Democracy.

We hope the SEC and state legislature are able to procure new machines in a transparent and effective manner and implement audits and training. In the meantime, we are seeking a court ruling to protect South Carolinians' constitutional right to have their votes accurately counted.

The SC Election Commission (SEC) is working to replace the state's aging voting machines. The SEC will be implementing a new system, with funding from the legislature. Some lawmakers are planning to push for $50 Million.

On Monday, WIS-TV reported, "There are 13,000 voting machines some call antiquated. One state representative goes as far to call them unreliable. But the commission says $50 million may not replace all 13,000 machines, but it could at least make a better backup system - a paper trail of votes."

Now, the SEC's Chris Whitmire clarifies. There will not be partial replacements of machines; there will be an entirely new system. No matter the system, there will be a new paper trail in place as another layer of security.

"South Carolina's current voting system was implemented in 2004 and is reaching the end of its expected useful life of 15 years. While we take significant measures to secure the system and are confident it will meet the needs of voters in 2018, we are planning for the transition to a new voting system by 2020. The SEC continues working with S.C. General Assembly to acquire funding for this replacement effort," Whitmire said Tuesday.

"Replacement will not only provide the state with a dependable system that will serve voters for years to come but will improve the security and resilience of our election process. In line with our approach of taking all reasonable measures to secure the state's election infrastructure, any new system will have a paper record of each voter's voted ballot. This will establish an additional layer of security as it allows for audits of paper ballots to verify vote totals," he added.

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