Beaufort County election officials 'very confident' in voting machines, backup procedures

Report critical of state's voting procedures described as 'rubbish'

cconley@islandpacket.comJuly 30, 2012 

In this 2005 photo, Eric Montgomery, left, with the Beaufort County Voter Registration/Election Administration, shows poll workers how the then-new touch screen voting machines worked during a demonstration on Hilton Head Island.

FILE, STAFF PHOTO

Beaufort County's top elections official says he's "very confident" in the electronic voting machines and myriad backup procedures in place to catch and correct software problems and human errors.

Scott Marshall, executive director of the Board of Elections and Registration, says the county's 368 iVotronic machines record every vote that's tallied and, contrary to a recent study, provide a verifiable paper trail.

"We go through a formal audit procedure following the election where we update data from (an internal) flash card ... and verify that against vote totals to be sure everything matches up and everything is correct," Marshall said Monday.

"We have not lost any votes, and we have not seen the machine do anything yet that we have not told it to do. They do what they are told."

Marshall's comments follow a report from Common Cause, Verified Voting and the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic that listed South Carolina as one of the states least prepared for the Nov. 6 election. The report, "Counting Votes 2012: A State-by-State Look at Voting Technology Preparedness," was released Wednesday.

Although the state earned high marks for procedures intended to solve polling place problems and for general "ballot accountability," the report found fault with South Carolina and 15 other states that use paperless voting.

"If those machines malfunction, there's no way to independently check what the actual voter's intent was," Susannah Goodman, director of the Voting Integrity Program at Common Cause, told The (Charleston) Post & Courier. "In these 16 states, we're very vulnerable to miscounts that won't be caught."

State and local officials, however, say that data from the state's voting machines are checked for any discrepancies.

"I am not sure how the writers of that report missed it, but South Carolina does do extensive post-election auditing," said Chris Whitmire, State Election Commission spokesman, noting the audits began after the 2010 election. "We have an audit program where we examine the data recorded on every voting machine and the computers used to tabulate results at the county level."

These audits are performed before a candidate is declared the winner, he said, adding that data from every machine in the state are checked.

Although there have been problems with the electronic machines since they were first used in 2004, Whitmire says they were isolated incidents attributed to human error.

In Beaufort County, Marshall says there have been reports of "vote swapping" over the years -- in which the machine allegedly records a vote for a candidate that wasn't selected. But he says elections workers have never been able to "duplicate" that during testing.

Marshall also disputed claims that the voting machines "crash." The machines are designed to power down when batteries run low, but he said any votes recorded before that occurs are still there when power is restored.

Polling places are also issued paper ballots and sealed ballot boxes in case problems occur.

Marshall hasn't read the groups' report and says he probably won't, describing it as "rubbish." However, he does take this and other claims about the state's voting system seriously.

"The biggest concern I would have is the perception it creates in the mind of someone who might be coming to one of the polling places -- the false perception that their ballot will not be counted," he said. "That is not the case. Their ballot will be counted."

Robert Behre of The (Charleston) Post & Courier contributed to this report.

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  1. Report finds flaws in S.C.'s voting systems, July 26, 2012

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