Richland County’s Breakdowns: Mechanical or Managerial?


[Image courtesy of thestate]

Richland County, SC has emerged as one of the jurisdictions with the worst and longest lines on Election Day 2012. In the aftermath, County has been struggling to figure out both what went wrong and who, if anyone, should be held responsible.

The County’s problems have been traced to a shortage of voting machines; in a post-election report, University of South Carolina professor Duncan Buell found that in 2012 there were hundreds fewer machines available than in 2010 despite a 28% greater turnout.

Why that happened has divided the County on what to do next. The county election director maintains that the problem was malfunctioning voting machines, and that she did the best she could to serve voters on Election Day. While the County did in fact have a large number of broken machines, there is a question of whether that large number of mechanical failures was the result of managerial failures.

One former technician told the State newspaper that he had concerns about how the machines were being serviced: “[H]e worried about the way his Richland County successors were going about maintaining the iVotronic machines between elections and preparing them for voting … he noticed they were taking shortcuts and calibrating machines in ways that contradicted his knowledge and shortcut his meticulous procedures.”

Those problems led the chair of the county election board to resign earlier this week after her colleagues appeared unwilling to recommend the dismissal of the election director, saying that she had lost confidence in the director’s ability to do the job. Last night, the members of the County’s legislative delegation met to discuss a similar “no confidence” vote but adjourned when it was reported that the director will step down in January.

Whether or not the director ultimately steps down, it’s clear that the breakdowns in Richland County involved both people and machines. As more and more election offices reach the end of their voting equipment’s usable life, the issue of machine maintenance – even before you get to the issue of machine allocation – is one that must be at the forefront of every jurisdiction’s preparations for Election Day

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