Richland County’s elections office used turnout from previous elections to help decide the number of voting machines distributed last month, two poll managers and a machine technician said. That might have been one of many miscalculations by the Elections & Voter Registration office – but so far not publicly acknowledged – that prompted machine shortages that created hours-long lines and disenfranchised uncounted others. State law requires one machine for each 250 registered voters. The law has no specific provision for using turnout as a gauge.
“It was definitely based on turnout,” Ward 11 poll manager Michael Sullivan told The State newspaper of a conversation in October with a key staffer in the elections office when he complained that too few machines were designated for his Ben Arnold Boys and Girls Club polling place in Rosewood.
“That was a novel interpretation of the law I’d never heard of,” said Sullivan, who has served four years as a poll worker in Richland County.
State Elections Commission director Marci Andino said county elections officials may use turnout or absentee ballots to decide how to allocate machines to precincts with histories of low or high voter turnout. But officials may not cut the countywide number.
“You never want to reduce the (countywide) total,” Andino said. “You want to use one machine per 250 voters and then you can use turnout as a factor … to make adjustments as needed.”
Other poll managers and technicians reached by the newspaper either said they did not hear that turnout was a factor or they did not recall it being mentioned. Most of the 17 technicians who worked on Election Day, Nov. 6, declined to speak to a reporter.