SC Voting Upgrades: The Need is Critical and Urgent
By Wendy Baruch
Hanging around the Horry County Democratic Party (HCDP), a person can learn a thing a two. Sometimes these things just need to be verified. When I saw a video from Tuesday’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cyber Security Summit, watching agency head Kirstjen Nielson confirming the present threat to our Democracy in the upcoming 2018 mid-term elections, I started doing some digging.
The best of the best at HCDP had shared with me the critical facts about our election processes and equipment. I had chosen to poll watch so that I could see for myself how the day of casting our vote worked behind the scenes. I knew the machines were old.
Nielson said her Department was working with all 50 states to combat the pending threats, which prompted me toI call the Horry County Registration and Elections Office. They scoffed and referred me to the State Election Commission (SEC).
There I spoke with spokesperson Chris Whitmire, but not everything he told me stacked up. I went digging again. This time I reached the SC SEC Fiscal Accountability Report for 2016-17. Mr. Whitmire seems like a really nice and caring person, but he is between a rock and a hard place, and so are EVERY ONE of us South Carolinians because of these facts.
Whitmire said the current machines have a 15 year life expectancy. The report says they have a 12 to 15 year life expectancy. They are now 14 years old. (I don’t know about you, but none of my computers has lived for more than five years in the last 20 years).
The Money Crunch
Whitmire said the new system and the paper back up that SC SEC is planning could cost as much as $50 million; he wasn’t able to be exact. The report says the last one cost $34 million, so I really wish he knew the cost of our next upgrade. If you take $34 million over 15 years and imagine it turning into only $50 million in today’s dollars, the math doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
This is the really alarming part: he said the Department had procured $10 million to $15 million for the replacement of the system; he didn’t want to be exact. Discussing the importance of replacing the system and the need for funds is an important role for him as the agency’spokesperson. However, the accountability report says the Department has asked for funding every year for the last seven and only has $1 million in the replacement funds account.
I am ripping livid and shocked!
I have been looking online at various budget documents, millions here, millions there, and I can find lots of things that aren’t as important as this. I am not done looking.
We are under attack from outside forces that can get right into our very subjective and objective processes of discernment. Not to mention our voting equipment. How can the state legislature NOT take this VERY seriously?
Whitmire said the voting machines do not go online. In fact the Accountability report said 950 laptop computers were purchased for the 46 counties in South Carolina’s Election Office system. Who knows of a lap top that does NOT go online? That would be a typewriter, thank you.
So 950 new electronic devices were used for registration of voters, outside of the actual voting machines on which we cast our ballots. My question is why did this funding supersede the replacement funding?
Handheld scanners were also purchased last year to speed up the lines at polling places. It’s confusing, he talked about paper trail accountability, the age of the voting machines and their need for replacement, but the department spent more money in the last fiscal year for electronic support equipment on the current system. Does this make sense?
He attempted to explain the missing votes and the lengthy process of certifying the Horry County vote in our recent runoff election. Here’s my take on what MIGHT have actually happened given what he said, what I dug up, and what I KNOW is possible.
At each polling place there is a manager who is supposed to go to each machine and pull down the votes onto one device, which gets turned in to the county office at the end of the day. Whitmire said the missing votes in Horry were from a polling place where the manager goofed and used two devices.
A Possible Scenario
Several polling places used more than one device to bring down the final count. The laptops could have had a corrupted registration link that ignored certain numbers of people that went to certain machines, or they just ignored certain counts? Couldn’t they?
Those registration machines did, in fact, go online and therein, lies the rub – the small place where error could have occurred. That is the vital reason that we need an accountable paper trail, and a modern day system that can thwart all risks to our election process. We must recognize our entire dream of Freedom from Tyranny, and the greatest Democratic experiment on earth, is at risk.
We must have an accountable voting process. Whitmire was not at liberty to tell me how DHS and the many other agencies are working with the SC SEC to combat inaccuracy in voting. However, the Fiscal Accountability report says it best:
“Refreshing the voting system (sic: not replacing it) would address common points of failure and performance issues identified through a review of maintenance records. If funding for the refresh/refurbish is not provided, South Carolina runs the risk of voting system failure or performance issues that could impact an election and erode public confidence in our election system.”
They know they need over $7 million to refresh it for five years. My confidence is waning. Can we send a huge message to the Legislature to fully fund replacement equipment and processes for this CRITICAL need?
We must my friends; we really must be sure that what we choose as a majority, is what we get.
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