COLUMBIA, S.C. — Two of Richland County's state leaders say they supported the Governor's decision to remove the entire county election board.
The move came after a contentious board meeting this week concerning more than a thousand votes that were left not counted in November.
“I mean there are third world countries that do a better job conducting an election than Richland County does,” said Senator Dick Harpootlian.
Harpootlian was at the board meeting this week, saying it showcased the Board’s disruptive and fractured relationships.
Since November, the Richland County Senator has had his share of headaches with the County's now-former election officials.
First, he was frustrated with how long it took to count votes on election day. At his own election night party, he said he was leaving to go tell the County election office to do its job.
Now, it's concern about how more than a thousand votes were left not counted until recently.
WLTX has reported on Richland County’s announcement it missed more than 1,000 votes in November’s election. Votes that were not counted till after election results were already certified.
State and local officials have said repeatedly the missing votes did not impact outcomes of any races.
The situation is why Harpootlian supported Governor Henry McMaster's decision to remove the entire Board through an executive order.
“I applaud the Governor for taking this bold move, now we on the delegation have to take a bold move and that is to make sure the five people that we appoint are qualified, competent, wanna do the work, have the intelligence and integrity to make sure the election process is dealt with in a very open and transparent way,” Harpootlian said in his downtown office.
Across the aisle, Representative Kirkman Finlay also supported the move and called for a closer look at vote counting.
“I think the most important thing we do at this point is investigate what happened and why it happened,” Finlay told WLTX.
Finlay, Harpootlian, and the rest of Richland County's state delegation will have to nominate five replacements to be appointed by Governor McMaster.
“I'm not even certain at this point we don't need to bring someone in from another county who has run -- another large county, that has run it appropriately and get them to run it. There are counties where it works, ours is not one of them,” Finlay added.
Both men say the need is urgent and work will begin quickly with a presidential primary and general election set for 2020.
Finlay said he felt the move was overdue, since Richland County had a history of election issues dating back to 2010 and outlined in the Governor’s executive order.
Senator Harpootlian urged people willing to work and understand the process to apply for the open board seats at their delegation office in the Richland County Courthouse.
Harpootlian said he hopes to keep the application process open till February 25, 2019.
In separate interviews, the two added that this situation highlights the need for state-wide ballots with a paper trail. So, counties have written proof of votes separate from machine tallies, according to Finlay.
Harpootlian said he would not vote for a bill replacing South Carolina’s current machines if it did not feature a paper trail system.
Former Richland County Election Director Rokey Suleman did not return WLTX’s request for comment.
In an emailed statement, now-former Board Chair Jane Emerson said this:
“I am sorry that the governor had a nuclear response to one problem board member. I am very concerned about the staff, many of whom are recent hires. But I think our deputy director will do a fine job and I hope he succeeds in restoring confidence in Richland County elections.”