Report: Plenty of Blame for Richland County Election Mess

11:38 PM, Dec 6, 2012   |    comments
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Richland County, SC (WLTX) - An interim report on the Richland County election debacle suggests there is plenty of blame to go around for why so few voting  machines were distributed at polling precincts throughout the county.

Steve Hamm, an attorney for the Richland County Election Board, presented his findings Thursday afternoon before the board members. LINK: Read Hamm's Interim Report on the Richland County Elections

Hamm said he's not through sifting through all the information--and says more information is still being brought to his attention--but he is able to make some conclusions. Chief among them--that county elections officials started on the right track, but wandered off.

"The November 6th election hit an iceberg last summer and no one noticed until up to and including the election," Hamm said.

Hamm said lower level employees were given assignments in the months leading up to the election and in his words "messed up."

Specifically, Hamm went into great detail about the central problem on election day: the lack of machines at many precincts countywide.

In his report, Hamm said he has been able to verify that the county has 958 voting machines, a number that's slightly lower than reported earlier, when election officials said they had 970. He says 45 machines were not working and would not have been available for Election Day.

But in his findings, Hamm said he believes only 475 or 480 machines were capable of taking a vote when polls opened November 6th.

In the summer, the election director and staff decided that 864 machines would be needed to keep to a state mandate requiring one machine for every 250 voters.

He then discussed a spreadsheet which had been presented as evidence at an earlier meeting of the Richland County delegation. The spreadsheet shows a listing of precincts, a column that states "number of machines" that's filled in with numbers in black. It also has a third column with handwritten numbers in red with different numbers than the previous column.

Hamm said several employees, including Richland Election Director Lillian McBride, told him they didn't know who wrote the numbers in red.

The report states the numbers in black added up to 864, and appear to be the number of machines that should have gone out on election day. The numbers in red add up to just 605.

Hamm said an e-mail written by an employee to  several staff members on July 3rd stated that McBride had given that person a revised list of machines. However, Hamm said he has no evidence that McBride actually revised the number.

In fact, Hamm believes the employee who sent the e-mail wrote the numbers in red. But right now, he's not sure why the employee changed the number or where he got his information.

According to Hamm, that spreadsheet became a "roadmap to the election" and directed employees to distribute an inadequate number of machines.

So how did no one notice there was a problem? Hamm says in his report that a lack of communication among election staff was part of the breakdown. He said it wasn't that staff were indifferent to doing their jobs properly; instead, there was a failure to employ a review and checking of procedures.

He said at no point did anyone question that the number of machines being sent out. He said they should have, since Richland County had over 17,000 new registered voters, requiring at least 70 more machines than in the last general election.

He said not only did staff members and McBride not question the numbers, but he said the election board didn't do its due diligence in checking the data.

Board Chair Liz Crum acknowledged the mistake by her members after the report was presented.

She said the board failed to meet monthly and ask questions of the county's elections office.

Hamm also said he believes that much of the battery problems on election day may have been caused by machines not being plugged in. He said devices were taken outside for curbside voting, meaning they were on battery power; when they went back inside, poll workers may have overlooked the need to plug them in since the screens were still on and the device was taking votes.

Hamm also confirmed another bit of news. He said he's looking into the possibility that 102 votes may not have been counted at the Spring Valley West precinct. He confirmed to News19 over the weekend that 27 votes weren't counted at a machine at the Lincolnshire precinct.

Before he wrapped up, Hamm said he'd continue work on his final report, where he expected to address structural problems. As for when that report will be complete, he said he's not setting a timetable--he just wants it to be right.

"It's going to take whatever time so that we get it straight," he said.

The board did not take any action after receiving the report but did agree to meet again December 17.



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