An analysis of South Carolina’s voting equipment found that state election officials miscounted hundreds of ballots during the primary and general elections in 2018 because of “continued software deficiencies.” Conducted on behalf of the League of Women Voters by Duane Buell, a computer science professor at the University of South Carolina, the study published last week found that in one primary race, voting machines in one precinct double counted 148 votes. During the general election in another precinct, more than 400 votes were awarded in the wrong county board race. In both instances, Buell found, the improperly counted voters were logged by the South Carolina State Election Commission as official results. Neither case involved enough votes to swing the outcome of an election, but Buell told StateScoop the incidents demonstrate the state continues to use poorly designed software that poll workers, many of whom are volunteers working long shifts, struggle to operate correctly.
“People are tired and they don’t check the 95 things you need to check,” Buell said. “Poll workers are supposed to arrive at 6 or 6:30 a.m., and polls close at 7 p.m. If you’re going to have software used by volunteers, you’ve got to bulletproof the hell out of that software.”
But Buell said his analysis of the equipment revealed few safeguards against such errors.
South Carolina conducts its elections using the iVotronic model of voting computer sold by Election Systems & Software, the United States’ largest manufacturer of balloting equipment. The state purchased its inventory of machines between 2004 and 2006, making even its newest computers more than a decade old. Further complicating matters, the iVotronic platform does not produce paper records of votes casted on it, making post-election audits difficult.
Anatomy of an error
Buell discovered the 148 double-counted ballots in a precinct in rural Marlboro County in the results of a June 2018 primary race. Of that precinct’s five iVotronic machines, four performed as designed, but poll workers noticed a fifth machine was malfunctioning after it had been used by five voters. Their votes were not altered, but the machine’s malfunction introduced a complication to the vote tallying process.