SC Election Day meltdown: a cautionary tale

Richland County Election Board Chair Liz Crum said they were prohibited by law from using emergency ballots. It says “if no machine is available,” paper shall be provided. Most precincts had some machines working.

Clearly, the statute needs to be fixed to require an on-hand supply of paper ballots and specify the wait times at which point they may be used.

The requirement for emergency paper ballots to be on hand at precincts was written out of the law in 2000 at the insistence of the Association of Counties. At the time, counties were using lever machines, punch cards and mechanical devices that never failed county-wide. The counties argued that emergency paper ballots were an unnecessary expense.

In 2002, in the wake of the Florida “hanging chad” debacle, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which provided funding for states to update their voting systems. South Carolina was the first state to spend the money, and one of seven states not to seek an extension of the funding deadline pending the establishment of federal guidelines for the new generation of touch-screen voting computers.

The SC Progressive Network presented expert testimony to the state Election Commission about the devices’ shortcomings before the state spent $38 million to buy the iVotronic machines we still use. The “iVo’s” don’t produce a paper record that can be verified by the voter, or used to recount the vote, and have been de-certified in a number of states because they are unreliable.

Switching to a statewide, computer-based, paperless voting system should have caused the legislature to restore the requirement for emergency paper ballots at every precinct. The potential for county-wide machine failures is a proven liability of this kind of system.

While blame for the failure in Richland County is falling largely on election officials, ignoring the history of failed machines in this and other elections implies that only human ineptitude or malfeasance can cause such problems.

As these delicate and complicated devices reach the end of their lifespan, we should be concerned about future elections and our next generation of machines. Replacing the people that run the machines will not solve the core problem. We must learn from our past mistakes and acquire a more a reliable, rnon-proprietary, paper-based voting system.

Brett Bursey is SC Progressive Network Director and SC Election Protection Field Coordinator.

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3 comments on this post.
  1. William Hamilton:

    You would think that using paper ballots and feeding them into a scanner as most states now do would be magic the way the hold outs for “faith based voting” carry on with these aging, defective machines. They can be hacked. They have been hacked in some places. As they get older, they’ll become even less reliable. As fewer states use them, the quality of technical support and product service will continue to decline. I’ve seen the system most states use. Mark a paper ballot, scan it through the tabulator and it drops into a safe for possible recount. Simple, works and everyone trusts it.

  2. judy malone:

    The 3 hour wait we had probably wouldn’t have qualified as an emergency, anyway.

  3. Michele E. Hutchinson:

    Is the emergency paper a ballot or blank.
    Let’s insure the next voting machines give voters receipts showing how they voted, like the same receipt we get from Walmart.
    There is a standing issue for voting machines with scanners. The scanners are slower than the voting station and increases the wait in line.
    We need to establish that standing in line for more than one our gives the voters the option to vote by paper. This will give voters who are
    time-limited, nurses, police, fireman, early responders, wage earners time to vote and get back to work. To establish how long a person has been in line, each others should pull a time staked ticket before they get in line. If there’s no money for this machine, then a volunteer poll worker put the time on a ticket and give to the voter before they get in line.

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