Machine ballots omit candidates' names

October 22, 2008 

A day after problems with incomplete paper ballots were reported, some Bluffton voters said the absentee ballots they cast in person on machines at the Hilton Head Island elections office weren't recorded correctly.

Three of four candidates for Bluffton Town Council also said they have heard complaints about the island election office from residents voting absentee in person.

The three candidates who said voters have contacted them about absentee voting problems -- Jeff Fulgham,

Normand "Gus" Thomas and incumbent Fred Hamilton -- said Tuesday that voters had been reporting problems since last week.

A worker at the Hilton Head office said that information regarding the matter would have to come from Agnes Garvin, county election director.

Garvin did not return a number of calls to her office and mobile phone throughout the day Tuesday.

Old town Bluffton residents Nancy and Bill Roe were among the voters who said they noticed a problem. Nancy Roe said she selected all her choices on the screen at the booth Friday. She had attempted to cast a ballot for the general election, Bluffton mayor and council, and the various statereferendum questions.

She said she clicked on all her choices -- including two candidates for Bluffton Town Council.

But when she reviewed her selections before actually casting the ballot, she noticed that her two picks for the Bluffton Town Council did not register. Her husband had the same problem.

With the assistance of a Hilton Head

employee, the two attempted to re-cast their ballots. Again, it didn't work.

They resolved the problem by casting paper ballots for the council race, Nancy Roe said.

"I'm real political, so I checked the ballot," she said. "If I had only given it a quick glance and punched 'vote,' I never would've known."

Although she ended up casting a paper ballot, Nancy Roe said she was upset because other people might have missed out on voting in the Bluffton council races.

It is unclear how many Blufftonians have cast absentee ballots so far. It also is unclear how many of them may have missed the council vote.

The Bluffton candidates said Tuesday they were upset and frustrated by the snarls in absentee voting so far this election season.

The election office "needs to ensure this won't happen again," candidate Fulgham said. "This isn't something silly like hanging chads. This is something that is preventable. They should have systematic checks beforehand."

Candidates Hamilton and Allyne Mitchell echoed those comments, saying the problems should have been addressed before voting began. Hamilton said he's received calls from three voters who said they also experienced problems voting for Bluffton Town Council candidates. Candidate Thomas said a voter contacted him about a problem similar to that reported by Bill and Nancy Roe.

He said a Board of Elections employee told him the Town Council vote might still have been cast, even if it didn't appear on the screen used by voters to review their ballots. It is not clear if that is the case, he said.

"I would've thought they would have had all these bugs worked out before the election," Thomas said.

These latest reports of problems come a day after the election office said 10 Bluffton voters received incomplete ballots in the mail.

Those ballots didn't include directions on how to vote for Town Council candidates. The ballots should have said that voters can only choose two candidates in the four-way race. The county elections office said it is trying to contact people who received absentee ballots without the directions.

Earlier this month, absentee voting by machine was delayed two days because the Beaufort office didn't have a password necessary to upload ballots to the S.C. State Election Commission for review.

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