Meditations on an (Unusual) Runoff Ballot in Richland County

Richland.runoff.jpg

[Image courtesy of Twitter via WIS-TV]

My friend and fellow “election news of the weird” fan Mindy Moretti sent me this WIS-TV story yesterday from good ol’ Richland County, SC:

A WIS Twitter fan tweeted us an image of an absentee ballot categorizing the document as ‘lazy’ and questioning whether or not it is legal.

The ballot was mailed to Twitter user Ryan Brown [above – ed.] so he could vote for this Tuesday’s runoff races in Richland County. Questioning the ballot, [Twitter user] ryabro wrote: “Really Richland County?” with the hashtags #lazy and #cantbelegal.

The races that had been decided during the June 10 primary election have been crossed out with black marker using an “X.” Meanwhile the contests that are to be decided Tuesday were edited to only show those candidates who are part of the run-off.

We contacted Richland County to inquire about Brown’s marked-up document.

A Richland County election board representative said the image is in fact a picture of a valid run-off ballot in Richland County. She explained there are so few runoffs and the turnaround was so quick, they repurposed ballots from the primary election. She also noted their machines should have no problem reading the ballots.

A spokesperson for the state election commission said this practice is nothing new and other counties have been following this protocol for years.

Chris Whitmire said reusing the ballots helps get them in the hands of voters as quickly as possible.

The deadline to return absentee ballots is 7 p.m. on June 24.

I have a number of reactions to this story:

1. While the ballot itself is inartful to say the least, it looks to me like an attempt by the County to comply with the state runoff laws – which are challenging generally because of the tight timeframe between elections and typically low turnout – without consuming scarce resources. While a “new” ballot might have been more visually appealing to “ryabro”, it would have also cost him considerably more as a taxpayer;

2. It’s a reminder of the power of social media – remember, this is one voter who shared his thoughts (and ballot) on Twitter and a local television station actually did a story about it;

3. I wish we had more pictures of ballots from across the country – it would make research and study of election design issues MUCH easier; and finally,

4. The story speaks to how difficult life can become for an election office once you get a reputation for making mistakes. Standing alone, this story is a curiosity, but given Richland County’s well-documented recent struggles and their efforts to overcome them, even little stories like this end up getting more attention.

That’s a lot to get out of one little story – but that’s why I love elections … and blogging about elections. Thanks to Mindy for staying on the “weird elections” beat!

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