Audit finds minor anomalies in Beaufort County's 2010 election data

An audit of the 2010 election released late last month by the S.C. League of Women Voters shows a few irregularities in data from Beaufort County's voting machines.

County elections executive director Scott Marshall said he's not yet certain how many votes might have been affected by problems, but he said that number is small enough that it wouldn't have affected any results.

Nonetheless, Marshall said irregularities in the data are "unacceptable" and said he will work to understand what caused them.

"Anytime there is an opportunity for error in results being reported, I'm concerned about it," he said. "We want to make sure that we do get it figured out, so we don't repeat that."

To perform its audit, the league analyzed the log files stored on memory cards inside county voting machines.

"What we have seen around the state is that all the possible things that could go wrong have gone wrong somewhere," said Duncan Buell, a University of South Carolina computer science professor, who helped lead the project.

Beaufort County had minor problems in comparison with glitches uncovered by the audit in other areas, but local totals weren't perfect.

Buell said his data show incorrectly configured ballots in one Bluffton precinct. Most of the precinct's voters reside in County Council District 4, represented by Chairman Weston Newton, but a few live in District 10, represented by Councilman Jerry Stewart.

Buell said he thinks information for the District 10 election was not entered into voting machines at that precinct. Thus, some voters might have cast ballots in the wrong race. Or they might not have voted in the county council election at all.

Marshall said he has not yet independently verified the analysis but will do so early next year.

Bluffton will hold municipal elections Nov. 8, but only two council seats are being contested, so a similar error would be immediately apparent, he said.

The S.C. Election Commission also is making changes in response to problems in 2010. Spokesman Chris Whitmire said the agency has developed software that lets counties audit vote data before they certify election results.

However, time is short after polls close. By state law, counties must certify general election results by the Friday after voting takes place, Whitmire said, prompting some to suggest the state legislature extend the deadline.

"As an elections official, I sure would like to see that," Marshall said.

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

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

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