Staying Tuned: Richland County Survives First (Small) Test

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[Image courtesy of richlandonline]

Regular readers of this blog know that I frequently close posts with the phrase “stay tuned” … in some ways, it’s kind of a signature but it does reflect my interest in following ongoing stories in the field of election administration. In that spirit, I’ve been following the efforts of Richland County, SC to overcome two consecutive troubled elections in 2012 and 2013 – and yesterday’s primary provided the first opportunity to do just that. Fortunately, I am not the only one interested; The State has more on the County’s cautious optimism in the aftermath:

Two years after a disastrous election process left people waiting hours in line to cast ballots, Richland County kept long waits at a minimum during Tuesday’s primary and reduced the frustrations so many voters expressed during the 2012 general election.

But far fewer people voted in the primary election, and county voting director Samuel Selph acknowledged that Richland has “some more work to do” before the upcoming general election in November.

Indeed, the county election director acknowledged that the low turnout was an opportunity to spot problems that would have been bigger in a general election:

“A large turnout possibly would have exacerbated our situation,” Selph said after polls closed at 7 p.m. “The fact that it was low gives us a chance to look at those things where we know we are a little weak, and it gives us a chance to go back to the drawing table to get some things together.”

“The fact that it was low, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been” …

Selph said some voting machines were not used, but he said the lack of training for poll workers contributed to that, rather than the machines not working. Overall, out of 1,018 machines the county had available, only 7 had to be replaced and pulled out of service, Self said.

“Our poll workers need more training, our poll clerks need more training,” Selph said, noting that voting machines and voting technology are becoming more high tech.

In a few cases, poll workers did not show up; in others, poll workers mistakenly delayed allowing people to vote because they could not get a printout associated with clearing voting machines.

If nothing else, Richland poll workers encountered an electorate that was significantly less cranky than in 2012:

Phil Hayes, who runs the polls at Shandon Baptist, said the precinct had three of seven machines working full time. Five were operating late Tuesday afternoon, he said. But Hayes said voters didn’t complain Tuesday like they did in 2012.

“During the general election, one guy was going to punch me in the nose because he thought he knew how to do everything,” Hayes said. “But he was back today and he was quieter today.”

By the end of the day, Selph was counting his blessings:

Tuesday’s problems were minor compared to problems of the 2012 general election, in which voters waited in line seven to eight hours because of malfunctioning voting machines or not enough machines.

“Nothing has happened to this point that you can compare with anything that happened in 2012,” Selph said. “Yes, we’ve had hiccups, but people are voting. Nobody has walked away.”

He noted that of the 25 precincts that encountered problems, only about half involved problems with voting machines or other things within the county’s control. He also pointed out that problems encountered early in the day had smoothed out as the day worn on.

“We just had a great day after somewhat of a rocky start this morning,” he said.

The real test, of course, will come in November when presumably many more voters will come to the polls; still, the fact that Richland made it through yesterday’s small test without another big problem is something for the county to build on.

Stay tuned!

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