The State Election Commission is auditing voting data from the 2010 statewide elections, and as it does, critics of the state’s iVotronic touch screen voting machines say the government audit is proving there are problems with the system — problems the agency doesn’t dispute.
“They’re admitting that there’s holes in the data,” says Frank Heindel of Mount Pleasant, who runs the watchdog website SCvotinginfo. He adds that the elections agency also admits that there are counties where auditors haven’t been able to obtain proper election data. Emails and comments from agency officials back that up.
“We never received complete data from Charleston … No data is available for Lancaster and Orangeburg,” wrote Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire in one email to Heindel about the ongoing audit. The reason no information was available for Orangeburg was because a computer with the audit data on it there crashed, Whitmire said.
Election officials in each county tabulate voting data from precincts after an election and then send it to the Election Commission for certification. But Whitmire tells Free Times that in the course of the agency’s audit, it found that some county election commissions were failing to follow proper procedure. That’s led the agency to certify inaccurate election results. And once those votes are certified, there is nothing in state law allowing the agency to correct them.
Colleton County, for instance, reported 13,045 votes for statewide offices in the November elections, but it turned that out only 11,656 ballots had been cast that day — meaning 1,389 extra votes had been counted. An investigation concluded that the skewed results were human error and not the fault of the machines.
The agency had also failed to count more than 1,100 votes in Richland County alone — with 1,000 of them missing from a single Bluff Road precinct.
Election watchdogs, including University of South Carolina computer scientist Duncan Buell, initially uncovered the discrepancies by reviewing replies to Freedom of Information Act requests for voter data from the counties. It was after that information came to light that the agency decided a complete audit of the election data was needed. In the process, more problems have been found.
“Federal and state law require the retention of election records for 22 months or 24 months,” agency spokesman Whitmire tells Free Times. “There are cases where they were not saved properly.”
The Election Commission is publishing the data it’s been able to retrieve on its website, but even some of that information isn’t accurate, says Buell. “It is sufficiently incomplete, and part of the concern should be that even the state cannot ask the counties for data and get a good record of what happened last November,” he says.
South Carolina uses a statewide system of iVotronic touch screens the state purchased from an Omaha-based company called ES&S in 2004. The machines do not provide a voter-verified paper trail. The machines are about halfway through their life cycle.