Many voters were genuinely excited about voting in this important election. I was one of the first to endorse Mitt Romney for President in South Carolina, and I think many others shared my excitement about his Presidential campaign and the future of our country. On the other side, President Obama certainly had countless local supporters here in the Palmetto State, and I know they were anxious as well to do their civic duty on November 6.
Unfortunately, instead of proudly casting their votes for President and leader of the free world, voters experienced a nightmare this past Election Day in Richland County. Genuine excitement was dashed by long lines caused by an inadequate number of voting machines and, in many cases, voting machines that worked improperly.
But, how did it get this way? What happened and why?
Senior citizens were asked to stand in line in some cases for four or five hours or more. Many frustrated voters faced with the choice of voting or missing work had to leave the lines and go back to work. Many parents were forced to leave long lines to care for children at home. Citizens were standing in line hours and hours into the night and many enduring freezing cold weather. The sad thing is that this never had to happen.
According to The State Newspaper, the Richland County Election Commission has over 1,000 voting machines at their disposal. State law mandates a voting machine must be available for every 250 registered voters in each precinct. Richland County was the only county in the entire stay to so drastically misallocate voting machines. If the Richland County Election Commission had only followed state law and run the simple math, these problems could have been avoided.
Many voters are convinced this fiasco is a result of some broad conspiracy for special interests to pass the penny sales tax increase. Because I have yet to have my questions answered from last Tuesday afternoon, I cannot answer these concerns for the voters and taxpayers.
Many other local voters feel this was all a result of government bureaucracy and plain incompetence. They point to the high number of machines the County owned combined with the time it takes to do the simple math to ensure each precinct has enough machines, and they conclude that this epic failure is just a sign of the times when government can’t get anything right. I can understand their frustration and sympathize with their concerns but believe we should withhold judgment until we know more facts.
What I do know as fact is at least one of the precincts in my area was seriously under equipped on Tuesday. The voters at Dutch Fork Middle School had only four booths (one of the four wasn’t working). When I spoke directly with the Executive Director of Elections and Voter Registration that afternoon, she told me we had 2,900 registered voters at that precinct. Quickly, I asked her to “do the math”. and she knew we didn’t have sufficient machines. She later sent four additional machines (still below the number required by law); but that was close to 4 p.m. after many voters had gone home or determined they could not wait and meet family obligations. Many told me they expected (and planned) to wait two hours but did not and could not wait four and five hours.
Last year the large Democrat majority on our county delegation was convinced that making changes to the election staff and voter registration staff through consolidation was the most efficient way to proceed. As one of only four Republicans on the delegation, I knew the outcome had already been decided on who the new head of this combined office would be and could not stop that process. Sadly this is how almost every appointment is made in Richland County, by the Democrat majority and with no member of the minority party on the “appointments committee”.
Moving forward as elected officials, it is imperative that we treat this matter seriously and that we investigate it thoroughly. Given the gravity of the situation and the political nature of elections, how can we best get answers for our voters without “politics” getting in the way? The public trust in the voting process must be restored with no prejudice towards parties, candidates, or ballot referendums.
In my opinion, state law enforcement should be given authority to investigate this matter fully, and if it is proven that any laws were broken, responsible parties should be prosecuted and punished. Though many questions still need answers, one thing is for certain – this can never be allowed to happen again. Richland County voters deserve better.