Election chief: Current system leaves 'too much room for error'

Reports of a handful of ballot glitches Tuesday led Beaufort County's elections chief to conclude the voting system leaves "too much room for error."

Poll workers at Beaufort's Charles Lind Brown Activity Center, the polling place for three precincts, reported some voters should have received ballots allowing them to vote for S.C. Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, who ran unopposed in District 124. Instead, they received ballots that included District 121, in which Rep. Ken Hodges, D-Green Pond, also ran unopposed.

A couple of voters in Beaufort's Pigeon Point neighborhood also told reporters they had received wrong ballots in the District 7 school board race, but Marshall said Wednesday he received no such complaints.

However, he acknowledged human error deprived some of the chance to vote for Erickson. He said the error probably began at the elections office, where paid staff and volunteers prepared packets for all of the polling places.

After checking in Tuesday, voters were given a slip of paper that corresponded with their House district to take to the voting booth, he said. Poll workers may have entered an incorrect precinct for a voter, or the voter may have mistakenly been given the wrong slip, leading poll workers to pull up the wrong ballot, Marshall said.

"There's two points of possible error that I'm not comfortable with," Marshall said. "You're relying on poll managers to correctly ID a person's precinct and give the right slip. Then you're relying on the second person to take that and pull up the right ballot. Sometimes people make mistakes."

Marshall said he hasn't received any other reports of errors.

"The error was a significant one, and it definitely got my attention because it's not what we strive for, but it didn't change the outcome of the race," he said.

Elections officials probably won't know how many ballots were affected by the error until later in the week, Marshall said.

The slip system was in place before Marshall's arrival, he said. He plans to meet with the elections board as soon as possible to review the system and decide whether to adjust it, he said.

The county elections board estimated voter turnout at about 65 percent -- which includes absentee ballots -- a number Marshall described as "phenomenal" for a midterm election. The turnout for the 2006 midterms was about 45 percent.

The heavy turnout contributed to long lines at some polling places, especially in southern Beaufort County.

Marshall said the congestion could be attributed to too few machines or poll workers in some polling places. One way to speed the process would be to give poll workers laptop computers for checking voter registration lists, rather than using paper lists.

"We need to look at all the areas where we need to improve flow and adjust the system," he said. "But when I factor everything in, it was a successful election. We can take the lessons learned and apply them in the future."