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Hilton Head voting machines, Bluffton lines delay Beaufort County election tallies

Issues with Hilton Head Island voting machines and long lines in Bluffton delayed Beaufort County election tallies Tuesday night, election officials said.

Two machines at two different locations on Hilton Head had technical issues and had to be removed early Tuesday morning, county elections director Marie Smalls said. The machines were brought to the county’s main election office in Beaufort after polls closed and had only recently arrived when Smalls talked to reporters just before midnight.

The two machines were the only ones left to be counted from Hilton Head. Bluffton precincts arrived after Hilton Head’s.

“We will try to get the results in as fast as we can,” Smalls said late Tuesday night.

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Representatives from campaigns for Joe Cunningham and Katie Arrington in the 1st Congressional District race were sent to the Beaufort County elections office in Burton after midnight to observe and asked for the printed results from southern Beaufort County. Wendell Roberson, deputy director of the county Board of Voter Registration and Elections, emerged from a back room to explain the reason for the delays, and the race was called for Cunningham shortly after.

Voters in Bluffton were still in line at Pritchardville Elementary School after 9 p.m., Smalls said, attributing the long lines to high turnout in a growing area of the county.

Beaufort County voters cast 71,058 ballots, a 58.44 percent turnout.

The machine breakdown on Hilton Head delayed the process about 30 minutes before new machines were in place, Smalls said.

She said tallies were further slowed by extra security precautions.

“I prefer to err on the side of safety and correctness,” Smalls said.

Issues with voting machines during elections are not rare, according to S.C. Election Commission Director of Public Information and Training Chris Whitmire.

With 13,000 voting machines across the state, it’s something that “happens every election,” he said.

Typical issues include poll workers being unable to shut down machines to retrieve the tapes or machines that die, according to Whitmire.

And when such issues arise, machines sometimes have to be transported to a county’s election office so staffers can fix them. In rarer circumstances, voting machine technicians might have to troubleshoot problems.

All of these scenarios can create delays.