S.C. Statehouse Report
July 25, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.0725.election.htm

Making sure every vote counts
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

JULY 25, 2004 - - When people go to the polls in November, they want to make sure their vote counts. That’s the American way.

But as the nation saw during reporting of ballots from Florida in the 2000 presidential election, just because you vote doesn’t 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 else.

But 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 didn’t 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, there’s 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 Carolina’s 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 - - wasn’t a part of the legislature’s reform because the state didn’t have the millions needed for the upgrade.


McLEMORE'S WORLD: Voting security

SCORECARD: Winners and losers of the past week



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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 Carolina’s 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 voting system.”

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.

It’s unclear whether there will be a protest, but there’s 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.

It’s 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 people’s 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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Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Wilkins. Hats off to House Speaker David Wilkins for winning a national award for leadership from a group of state lawmakers.

Sanford. Congrats to Gov. Mark Sanford for being selected to chair the National Governors Association's economic development and commerce committee.

Thumbs down

Greenville County employees. Thumbs down for continuing to keep the county from celebrating the Martin Luther King holiday.

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