Beaufort County's top elections official is calling for wholesale reforms, not piecemeal changes, to the state's confusing and sometimes contradictory elections laws.
"Until (that happens), nothing ... is going to make sense and the voter will not be served well," said Scott Marshall, executive director of Beaufort County's Board of Elections and Registration.
Filing problems during the 2012 state primaries that resulted in more than 250 people being removed from the ballot and inconsistencies in the state's new voter-ID law are just the latest examples, he said.
Marshall's comments come as state officials are drawing up plans to create more voting precincts in Richland and Florence counties after an Election Day fiasco in Richland County left thousands of voters in line for hours and disenfranchised uncounted others.
Bobby Bowers, who leads the research and statistics division of the State Budget and Control Board, said Tuesday that members of legislative delegations from Richland and Florence counties have asked that he draft bills to be introduced next month when the Legislature convenes.
"We're just trying to split some of these big precincts," Bowers said Tuesday. "This has bubbled up since this (Richland County) thing came up."
He expects other large or fast-growing counties such as Charleston, Greenville, Spartanburg and Beaufort to seek to break up oversized precincts. Lawmakers and state and local election officials have for years ignored the 1970 law that set the 1,500 per-voter standard, Bowers and others said.
According to Marshall, at least 12 of Beaufort County's 84 precincts have more than 1,500 voters. The exact number, and location, of those larger precincts were unavailable this week.
Simply redrawing precinct boundaries, without also changing requirements for the number of voting machines in each precinct, could create new problems, he said. It could also create new costs if the county must buy new machines to meet state law. State law requires one machine for every 250 voters.
For that reason, Marshall favors broader election reforms that simplify the process for voters and elections officials.
It's a knee-jerk reaction to change one or two things without looking at the entire process, and that's dangerous," Marshall said Thursday.
For instance, Marshall said the state's voter-ID law, which wasn't in effect during the 2012 election, requires voters to show identification when voting at the polls. However the law doesn't require ID to register and also does not require ID to vote absentee -- which he believes is where most voter fraud takes place.
Marshall argues for the creation of a task force comprised of legislators, state officials and county elections workers to complete a "top-to-bottom review" of state elections laws.
Material from The State newspaper was used in this report.