Richland County taxpayers are footing the bill for nearly $153,000 in legal fees to investigate what went so wrong in the Nov. 6 election and to fend off protests that threatened to unravel the results. The expenses, detailed in a 46-page packet obtained by The State newspaper under South Carolina’s open-records law, include:
• $72,423.10 for lawyer Steve Hamm, hired at the request of the Richland County Board of Elections & Voter Registration, to uncover the web of mistakes that resulted in waits of up to seven hours for voters and a cache of misplaced ballots.
• $9,461.25 for a lawyer to represent the interests of elections director Lillian McBride, viewed as incompetent by her critics and as a scapegoat by her defenders. She since has been demoted to a deputy director.
Hamm’s months-long investigation has produced two preliminary reports so far into what caused one of the most mismanaged elections in state history, citing a lack of voting machines to meet state law. Still, there have been few concrete answers as to who is responsible for the mistakes and exactly how they happened.
Reached last week, Hamm said his final report will suggest some changes in office procedures and make other recommendations on how to improve county elections. But the release of that report will wait until a new elections director is hired, Hamm and elections board chairman Allen Dowdy said. While three director finalists have been selected, there is no timetable for the decision, Dowdy said.
In all, lawyers Hamm, Helen McFadden, John Moylan and John Nichols charged legal fees of $152,754.55 for work they did on behalf of the county in the four months after the election.
Their pay ranged from $225 an hour to $395 an hour.