Human error led to wrong ballots at Beaufort precinct, official said

Gloria Williams, center, receives help with her ballot from poll worker Daniel A. Smalls Tuesday afternoon at Charles Lind Brown Activity Center.
Gloria Williams, center, receives help with her ballot from poll worker Daniel A. Smalls Tuesday afternoon at Charles Lind Brown Activity Center.

Some voters in a Beaufort precinct say they received incorrect ballots.

State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, said a voter called her at about 12:30 p.m. today to say that instead of receiving a ballot that included Erickson, who is running unopposed for the District 124 seat, she received a ballot that included the District 121 race, in which Rep. Ken Hodges, D-Green Pond, runs unopposed.

Three Beaufort precincts share the Charles Lind Brown Activity Center as a polling place. According to Erickson, the Beaufort 2 precinct that votes there is split between House District 124 and House District 121, but apparently, some voters who should have been able to cast ballots for her received ballots for the District 121 race instead.

Scott Marshall, executive director of the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, said the mistake likely originated at the voter registration office when paid staff and volunteers prepared packets for polling locations.

After checking in, voters were given a slip of paper that corresponded with their House District to take to the voting booth.

"It was a human error where the precinct was not issued the (slips of paper) that corresponded with House District 124," Marshall said. "Instead everyone was given a (slip of paper) that corresponded with House District 121."

"It would be optimal if this didn't happen," Marshall said. "In this particular case, the positive takeaway is it will not affect the outcome of the race."

"That does not mean I condone the mistake."

The elections board likely won't know how many ballots were affected until later in the week because the uncontested race will fall lower on the list of priorities, Marshall said.

Others voters complained that they couldn't see which two Beaufort City Council candidates they had voted for toward the end of filling out their ballot.

For races in which voters could only select one candidate, the name of the person they selected was displayed. But in races where voters could pick two candidates, including the Beaufort City Council race,  the screen only told voters they had selected two candidates and did not give their names.

Voters could still page back to review their selections for the City Council race if they wanted, Marshall said.

He said it's something they "will try to address in the next election."

In voting around Beaufort County, lines were longer than usual for a mid-term election. Voting machine malfunctions, hour-long waits and strong voter turnout have been reported across Hilton Head Island.

Marshall said voting machines have built-in safeguards and will shut down if they're running low on batteries and that he has been amazed at turnout he described as "extremely heavy" across the county. Marshall added that reports of machines shutting down as a result aren't concerning.

"To me, that's good news," he said.

SOUTH OF BROADPeople packed polling locations early this morning at Hilton Head Plantation, Spanish Wells Club, the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina and Christ Lutheran Church, according to poll workers and voters.

Two of three voting machines were working at Spanish Wells Club, leading to an hour-long wait to vote. The machine began malfunctioning around 7 a.m. and was fixed by 11 a.m., said poll worker Hampton Bennett, 17, a senior at Hilton Head Island High School.

Bennett said county elections workers also delivered two more machines to help reduce wait time.

Hilton Head mayoral candidate Drew Laughlin said he waited nearly an hour to vote at the Spanish Wells polling site.

"Turnout seems to be heavy," Laughlin said at 11 a.m. "I was voter 109."

At Christ Lutheran Church, a crowd standing outside, waiting to get into the polling location to vote, cheered when an election worker brought in a new voting machine to replace one that had been malfunctioning, according to mayoral candidate Tom Crews.

"It is packed," Crews said. "One poll worker told me it's been like a zoo all morning. It's amazing. The poll workers are going out of their mind. It's almost like they need more locations to handle things."

He said his wife encountered a glitch when voting at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. The voting machine would not load the last page of the ballot listing mayoral candidates, Crews said.

"She wasn't going to have that," Crews laughed. "They had to reset the machine twice in a row for two people, including my wife. It did end up loading that last page, and she was able to vote for all the candidates"People also packed into the Plantation House at Hilton Head Plantation, mayoral candidate Jim Collett said. No one had any problems voting, he said.

About 15 voters were in line before the sun when polls opened at 7 a.m. at the Bluffton Library, and a steady stream followed thereafter. That's markedly different than past elections in which only a handful of voters usually cast ballots early before a morning lull, clerk Richard Preer said.

Poll worker Louise Sternheim said St. Luke's Church on Hilton Head had an influx of voters who hadn't cast ballots in recent elections. One voter was already there when poll workers arrived about 6 a.m., she said.

NORTH OF BROADNorth of the Broad River, Lady's Island precincts also reported heavier-than-usual turnout for mid-term elections.Herbert Jamison, a poll manager at Beaufort County Airport on Lady's Island, said 945 voters are registered in Lady's Island Precinct 3B, and 35 of them had voted by 7:15 a.m., nearly triple the turnout at that point in the last mid-terms in 2006.

A poll manger at Coosa Elementary said a line of about 20 had formed before the polls opened at 7 a.m. About 1,450 voters are registered in Lady's Island Precinct 2A, and 118 had voted by 9:05 a.m.

Down the road at Broomfield Recreation Center, 252 voters of 1,905 registered voters had cast ballots at Lady's Island 3A by 11 a.m., according to poll manager Frank Hamilton.

"We've had tremendous turnout," Hamilton said. "We've had a steady stream all morning, and considering the number of absentees we had, I'm kind of surprised. I think we had a record number of absentee voters."

Hamilton reported just one glitch -- one of the five machines there wasn't working properly early in the morning, but a county worker had it up and running again by about 7:50 a.m., he said.

Scott Marshall, executive director of the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, said at about 11:15 a.m. that he has been making stops at various polling places and that no serious problems have been reported.

In Beaufort County, most candidates were trying to get out the vote and trying to find time to vote themselves.

"I've usually voted by now," Bill Evans said at about 9 a.m. Evans is running against Robert White to represent Lady's Island and parts of Pigeon Point and Dataw Island on the Beaufort County Board of Education. He was waving a campaign sign at motorists as they passed Coosa Elementary, and campaign volunteers did likewise at other Lady's Island precincts. "I'm one of those who usually like to be there first thing, as soon as the polls open."A little later, Evans made his way to his precinct, voting at Broomfield where Jim Bequette, the man he hopes to replace on the board, did last-minute stumping -- just beyond the legal distance from the poll entrance -- for Evans' opponent, whom he endorsed early in the race.

"I talked Robert into running, so I figured I had better help him out," Bequette quipped.