By Don Kohn.
We are now less than three months away from the November 6 general election and questions about our voting processes and voting security continue unresolved, jeopardizing the fundamental right of all of our citizens to be certain that their votes are counted – and accurately.
Last week, HCDP’s Wendy Baruch wrote a terrific piece in this space recounting her experience as she investigated the status of the state’s effort to resolve many of the state’s voter issues. She found more unanswered questions than answers, and the bottom line is that South Carolina’s election security is still in jeopardy.
All of this is happening as even the Trump administration now acknowledges that Russia continues its efforts to influence (I say sabotage) our elections nationally. Clearly, our systems are vulnerable to such attacks and more needs to be done than hand-wringing and speech making.
Here in South Carolina, it is clear that money is at the root of the evil that has befallen our election system. Nothing as sinister as bribery or criminal acts of one sort or another – just the need for funding to upgrade or replace our voting machines that have outlived their useful life and are constantly failing.
For more on that, I refer you to Wendy’s article here.
But the problems here in our state, specifically in Horry County, go beyond coming up with some $50 million for new voting machines – which ought to be our state’s top priority right now.
Shortly after the June primary election, I sent the following letter to Larry Leagans, chair of the county Voter Registration and Elections Commission, outlining numerous problems that occurred during the primary and subsequent runoff. Clearly, there are issues with training of poll workers and steps needed to avoid unnecessary and avoidable human error. Here’s the gist of the letter:
- Since all legal documents are signed in ink, all signatures related to voting should be in ink. Several people were told they had to sign in pencil during the Primary (Hickory Grove, East Loris, West Loris). Several additional incidents were reported to us during the runoff, including East Loris again. We request that you retrain your staff and give them pens for the Primary Poll List Voters Oath list and the Paper Voter Registration List used as backup. Please share your plan to address this.
- We understand that the problems that occurred in loading precinct results at the Voter Registration and Elections office after the election must be addressed at the state level. Please keep us in the loop on actions by the state.
- We reported during the Primary that three people presented their permanent SC Voter Registration ID as identification. Their cards were not recognized and could not be scanned by the polling place equipment in Sea Winds, Socastee #3 and West Conway. During the runoff, several additional voters who presented their permanent SC Voter ID, including at Forestbrook, reported that they could not be scanned and there were still precincts that were unaware that they could be used. Please keep us informed of the action that you will be taking to ensure these cards can be readily recognized as identification in elections and properly scanned.
- Ten Primary mail-in ballots were rejected because they were not witnessed. We are disappointed that the promised reminder sticker to get a witness signature was not provided. Because voters who miss this detail are not informed of their disallowed ballot, they are likely to repeat the error unless the sticker is affixed to each ballot. No ballot should be disallowed due to failure to have a witness signature.
- Other issues regarding mail-in absentee ballots include receipt of ballots too close to election day and two ballots received by one voter. Increased oversight is required. We request that you end your assignment of this critical part of the election process to an outside company. How will you correct this?
- Despite the fact that the 209 missing County Council Chairperson ballots were found eventually, we are concerned about the type of human error that led to this mishap. Please explain how this happened and what steps are being implemented to prevent it from happening again.
- We reported that people were told at two precincts that there was only a Republican runoff but no Democratic r After this issue was reported, Sandy Martin made calls to ensure that workers offered a choice of ballots. The precincts involved were Palmetto Bays and Four Mile. Please share your plans to rectify this issue in the future.
- At Pauley Swamp precinct, machine clocks were not accurate and machines “froze up” when left idle for too long, causing delays for voters there.
- At Little River #1, general signage that should have pointed toward the proper entrance was pointed in the wrong direction, causing disabled voters to walk much farther than necessary. After a voter reported this to the poll workers, the signage had not been corrected when the voter returned two hours later at 5:30 p.m.
- Also at Little River #1, a voter’s permanent Voter ID would not scan. When his record was looked up on the paper list and the computer, he was identified as a mail-in absentee voter. While this was corrected by a phone call to the Election Commission, the incident led to concerns that remote management of voter rolls could lead to errors. Please explain to us how this is controlled.
- A young voter at Jetport 2 was pushed to vote the Republican ballot several times, even though she requested a Democratic ballot.
We are concerned that many of the issues identified in the Primary continued to occur during the runoff. The validity of all elections rests on the presence of adequate voting equipment and well-trained workers who are fully prepared to serve. A voter verifiable and auditable paper trail, fully functional batteries and good preparation of machines and poll workers throughout the county are absolute necessities for fair elections.
We appreciate your attention to all these issues as well as the service you provide voters. We look forward to your response to the issues we have raised.
Note: We have received a response from the county stating that the issues that we addressed above are being addressed and that staff training will be undertaken to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future.
We certainly support this effort and appreciate the cooperation. It is especially important right now, considering the problems relating to external interference and vulnerable voting machines, that all of these matters relating to staff and procedures be promptly and effectively addressed.