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Hand count audit shows no discrepancies in Columbia city elections, officials say

The audit was ordered after some problems were reported at the polls.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A hand count audit ordered by state officials of some votes in Tuesday's City of Columbia runoff elections found no discrepancies in the results.

The audit was conducted Wednesday morning, hours after final but unofficial results for the races were tallied. Those numbers showed Daniel Rickenmann winning the Columbia mayoral race and Aditi Bussells securing the Columbia City Council At-Large seat.

RELATED: Daniel Rickenmann elected as new mayor of Columbia

The audit reviewed only a portion of the ballots cast at 10 of the citywide precincts.  A total of 76 precincts voted in the election. 

The Richland County Election Commission actually counted the votes but the South Carolina Election Commission (SEC) observed the process. 

RELATED: Aditi Bussells wins Columbia City Council at-large seat

SC Election Commission Interim Executive Director Howard Knapp called for the audit late Tuesday after there were reported problems at some precincts when voting began.  News19 received calls and emails from concerned voters about their experiences, including at precincts on Devine Street in Columbia, Dreher High School, and Hand Middle School. Some said they had to use an emergency paper ballot and others said they were given a blank ballot to vote on with the machine. 

SEC Spokesman Chris Whitmire said the issue was triggered by a human error by Election Systems & Software, which prepared the file for electronic poll books used in the elections.  Those poll books are used to make sure voters get the correct ballot. The problem meant that when voters went to the machine to make their selections for candidate, no ballot displayed.  

Whitmire said the vendor has apologized for the error, but he added that the problem should also have been caught by the Richland County Elections Office when they did their review of the machines the day before the election. Whitmire said the SEC will be following up with the company and the county to make sure this problem doesn't happen again.  

Richland County Election officials said the problem was caught quickly. Poll workers News19 spoke with Tuesday said they rectified the issue within a half hour, and people were able to vote without problems after that. 

Whitmire added the problem should not have prevented any voters from voting. He said the fix is easy once poll workers catch it, which is what happened at most of the affected precincts. The workers just give a blank ballot card and the poll worker manually selects the correct ballot that the voter should use. He said paper ballots were another option and that those votes will be counted.  

The results of Tuesday's election will be certified later this week. Rickenmann and Bussells will be sworn in on January 4, 2022.