South Carolina

Richland election better but more improvements needed, director says

Two years after a disastrous election process left people waiting hours in line to cast ballots, Richland County kept long waits at a minimum during Tuesday’s primary and reduced the frustrations so many voters expressed during the 2012 general election.

But far fewer people voted in the primary election, and county voting director Samuel Selph acknowledged that Richland has “some more work to do” before the upcoming general election in November.

The county needs to ramp up training for poll workers, who had difficulties Tuesday operating equipment that is vital to the election process, he said. He said human error, as opposed to malfunctioning equipment, led to the majority of problems.

While most precincts reported almost no waits for voters, several precincts experienced delays that slowed down some people early in the morning. Tuesday’s low voter turnout -- under 25 percent -- helped minimize glitches that arose, Selph said.

“A large turnout possibly would have exacerbated our situation,” Selph said after polls closed at 7 p.m. “The fact that it was low gives us a chance to look at those things where we know we are a little weak, and it gives us a chance to go back to the drawing table to get some things together.”

“The fact that it was low, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

Statewide, the S.C. Election Commission reported few problems, although some Greenville County voters were given the wrong ballots for a House race, commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said. One voter in Georgetown County was wrongly turned away from voting because the person lacked a picture identification, but elections officials later allowed the person to vote, Whitmire said. Whitmire said he knew of no problems in Lexington County.

The S.C. Election Commission also received reports that voters showed up at 7 a.m. to Camden Middle School in Kershaw County and found the doors still locked. Whitmire noted that Richland’s issues Tuesday were more typical of those that would be found in any county.

In Richland, Selph said some voting machines were not used, but he said the lack of training for poll workers contributed to that, rather than the machines not working. Overall, out of 1,018 machines the county had available, only 7 had to be replaced and pulled out of service, Self said.

“Our poll workers need more training, our poll clerks need more training,” Selph said, noting that voting machines and voting technology are becoming more high tech.

In a few cases, poll workers did not show up; in others, poll workers mistakenly delayed allowing people to vote because they could not get a printout associated with clearing voting machines.

Problems with voting machines and staffing delayed the scheduled 7 a.m. start of voting at Mallet Hill and Ward 14 precincts, and issues with the new laptops used to check in voters have slowed the process in a few precincts, Selph said. But none of the problems should have kept people from voting, he said.

Phil Hayes, who runs the polls at Shandon Baptist, said the precinct had three of seven machines working full time. Five were operating late Tuesday afternoon, he said. But Hayes said voters didn’t complain Tuesday like they did in 2012.

“During the general election, one guy was going to punch me in the nose because he thought he knew how to do everything,” Hayes said. “But he was back today and he was quieter today.”

Multiple tweets indicated Polo Road Elementary wasn’t open when voting began at 7 a.m. Selph said there were problems with machines at Polo Road, but social media made them sound worse than they were.

At Oakwood precinct in Forest Acres, no problems were reported and 120 people had voted by noon.

The precinct at Pontiac Elementary School, now split in two, also reported a smooth process -- notable since that precinct had some of the longest lines during the 2012 general election.

Amanda Loveday, former executive director of the state Democratic Party and now spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Clyburn, said voters at Ward 14 when the doors opened at 7 a.m. were told machines weren’t working and they weren’t going to allow paper ballots. Voters reported the machines were up and running by 8 a.m.

“You have little issues, and people get on the internet and start tweeting, and it turns into a big thing,” he said.

Voting was light at most poll locations. Only one car was in the parking lot at the Cromer precinct in the Oak Grove area of Lexington County at 7:15 a.m., and 18 people had made it to the voting booths and there was no line at the neighboring Oakwood precinct.

Despite issues, Selph said Tuesday’s problems were minor compared to problems of the 2012 general election, in which voters waited in line seven to eight hours because of malfunctioning voting machines or not enough machines.

“Nothing has happened to this point that you can compare with anything that happened in 2012,’’ Selph said. “Yes, we’ve had hiccups, but people are voting. Nobody has walked away.”

He noted that of the 25 precincts that encountered problems, only about half involved problems with voting machines or other things within the county’s control. He also pointed out that problems encountered early in the day had smoothed out as the day worn on.

“We just had a great day after somewhat of a rocky start this morning,” he said.