A federal court may have prevented South Carolina’s discriminatory voter ID law from going into place until next year, but many voters are still being disenfranchised thanks to malfunctioning voting machines and hours-long lines.
In Columbia’s Shandon neighborhood, local blogger Ashley Miller told Palmetto Public Record her precinct is supposed to have six voting machines — but only two were working when voters showed up this morning. By the time Miller made it through the 2.5-hour line, only three voting machines were in working order.
According to voter registration data from the Elections Commission, Miller’s precinct has 1,509 registered voters. Since only three voting machines were functioning during Miller’s time in line, each machine would have to process 42 voters per hour — a tall order given how many races voters have to examine before casting their ballot.
While Miller stuck it out all the way to the ballot box, she said she saw several people decide not to wait through the long line and leave without voting. She pointed out that her precinct, Ward 14, is one of the most Democratic-leaning neighborhoods in the district.
The Sumter Item’s Nick McCormac, who voted in Richland County’s S. Kilbourne precinct, reported waiting two hours and 15 minutes to vote this morning. McCormac’s precinct had four voting machines to begin with, but only three were working — and those machines were breaking down “every 10 minutes.”
McCormac’s precinct has 1,768 registered voters, so even if all four machines were in working order, each machine would have to process 37 voters every hour. A poll worker told McCormac the station had twice the number of machines during the 2008 election.
“One thing Republicans and Democrats agree on today — absolute voting debacle in Richland County,” SCGOP Executive Director Matt Moore commented on Twitter. “Why are there half the machines from 2008?”
“It’s a mess,” agreed state Democratic Party Executive Director Amanda Loveday.
Speaking to The State Newspaper this morning, South Carolina Elections Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire denied that fewer voting machines are in use this year. Whitmire hasn’t responded to a separate request for comment regarding how voting machines are distributed throughout the state.
When Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin stopped by Miller’s precinct to drop off doughnuts and water for shivering voters, he said elections officials underestimated voter turnout and didn’t provide enough machines. But given that South Carolina has seen record voter registration and absentee voting numbers in the runup to the 2012, the increased turnout shouldn’t have been a surprise.
According to the Free Times’ Corey Hutchins, South Carolina’s voting machines are currently being audited by the state legislature’s investigative oversight council:
Audit Council investigators are evaluating the machines, reviewing the adequacy and appropriateness of the training of election officials and evaluating alternatives to the machines. They’re also looking into whether poll workers are trained properly.
“We’ve done a lot of the work … the majority of the field work,” a LAC official said today about the audit, adding that a report is expected in February. “We’re in sort of the wrap-up phase to a certain extent.”
The official said one of the issues they are looking at is whether the machines record votes properly.
“With any machine there are always good things and bad things,” the official said.
Regardless whether the long voting lines were caused by human or mechanical error, it’s clear South Carolina’s voting system needs to be fixed before the next election — and it’s up to voters to make sure their new legislature makes that a priority after being sworn in.