July 25, 2004
Making sure every
SC Statehouse Report
25, 2004 - - When people go to the polls in November, they
want to make sure their vote counts. Thats the American
But as the nation saw during reporting of ballots from Florida
in the 2000 presidential election, just because you vote doesnt
mean your vote is going to be properly counted.
To try to boost accuracy of voting in South Carolina, the
state is seeking to create a uniform statewide voting system
that uses electronic machines.
Compared to punch-card or optical-scan voting systems, electronic
machines are considered much more reliable, according to Steve
Skardon, who chaired a blue-ribbon panel of leaders that made
myriad election reform suggestions to the legislature a couple
of years ago.
In 2000, South Carolina voters in 21 counties used various
electronic machines to vote. In the presidential race, for
example, machines counted no choice on 15,563 of the 656,013
ballots cast, according to figures provided by Skardon. The
2.4 percent discrepancy could be because some voters decided
not to vote for president, some errors were made, or something
compare the results to the 11 counties that used punch-card
ballots - - the kind of ballots that led to the infamous hanging
chads of Florida. In the presidential race, some 24,123
ballots (4.2 percent) had no vote registered for president
of the 571,786 cast. In Chester County, for example, some
9.7 percent of ballots registered no presidential choice.
Again, the discrepancies might be explained by errors, voters
who didnt want to pick a choice for president or something
else. But is it likely that almost one in 10 voters in Chester
County would decide not to vote in the biggest election of
the year? Or that punch-card systems generated twice as many
scoreless ballots as electronic machines?
Clearly, theres something amiss with punch-card systems.
Optical scan systems, which require voters to mark ballots
by filling in little circles that are read by the machines
(much like students use in taking standardized tests), reportedly
are more error-prone, said Skardon, who also serves as executive
director of the non-profit Palmetto Project.
Fortunately, South Carolinas legislature has adopted
many of the recommendations made by the blue-ribbon panel.
As a result, there will be better training of poll workers,
more voter education and other improvements, Skardon said.
But the big enchilada - - the statewide electronic voting
system - - wasnt a part of the legislatures reform
because the state didnt have the millions needed for
WORLD: Voting security
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Then along came President Bush and Congress, which in 2002
passed the Help America Vote Act. It provided more than $3.5
billion to states to develop ways to improve voting. So the
State Election Commission got together another group of leaders
to develop a plan, which was approved in September.
As explained in an opinion piece circulated by State Election
Commission Chairman John S. West of Moncks Corner, South
Carolinas plan is substantial and well-conceived. Reforms
include enhanced poll worker training, voter outreach and
education and improved access for voters with disabilities.
The centerpiece of the plan is a call for a uniform statewide
Right now, the state has the money to buy machines for 11
counties that still use punch-card ballots - - the same ones
that caused problems in Florida in 2000. It has awarded a
contract for machines and, if there is no protest by the first
week of August, the state should get the machines.
Its unclear whether there will be a protest, but theres
still a pall over the contract because of complaints following
a contract awarded, but rescinded, earlier in the year. The
State Law Enforcement Division is investigating.
Its vitally important that SLED issue prompt findings.
To fail to do so might put the whole process at risk this
year, which could cause some peoples votes to not be
counted. And that would be a South Carolina shame.
7/25: Voting security
This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:
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Greenville County employees. Thumbs down for continuing
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