In the heart of South Carolina lies Richland County. Home to the University of South Carolina, the second largest county in the state is celebrating its 215th anniversary. By all accounts, it’s a nice place to live and work. Recently though, it has not been a good place to vote. The Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration has been under a cloud of controversy since 2011 when the General Assembly passed a law merging Richland County’s elections office and voter registration office. During the 2012 presidential election, voters in Richland County faced some of the longest lines in the country. Some of the problems were blamed on a lack of poll workers, malfunctioning machines and that in many cases there were simply too few voting machines at precincts. There were anecdotal reports that hundreds of voters ultimately gave up and never cast a ballot.
Editorials: Let South Carolina Election Commission oversee county offices to safeguard everyone’s vote | The State
The main reason the Legislature has spent more than a year not fixing the election system that brought us Lillian McBride and Howard Jackson and now Sam Selph — and eight-hour waits to vote and uncounted ballots — is that legislators in the rest of the state don’t understand that Richland County is the canary in the coal mine. They insist that those endless lines and ballots that turn up a year after the fact, uncounted, are unique to Richland County. They’re not, but let’s pretend for argument’s sake that the problem is unique to Richland County. It still isn’t a Richland County problem.
Howard Jackson has been fired after eight months as director of the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration Office. Jackson, 43, was dismissed Monday on a 4-1 vote by the election board, with member Adell Adams the only “no” vote. His last day in the office will be Feb. 28. “Things were not going right,” board member Samuel Selph said in confirming the board’s decision. Jackson, who was hired at an annual salary of $78,000, said he would be holding a news conference Tuesday to discuss the turn of events as well as recent elections. He was brought in by the board after the election disaster of November 2012, when too few machines were deployed and voters waited in long lines, some for as long as seven hours, to cast ballots. Then-director Lillian McBride, who oversaw that election, was demoted to another position.
A state election audit revealed Thursday that Richland County officials failed to count 1,114 absentee ballots when finalizing results of the Nov. 5 city and county elections. Howard Jackson, county election director, said the electronic ballots came from a single voting machine used by absentee voters at the election office. This was the first countywide election since Richland County’s botched 2012 general election, considered one of the worst in state history. At that time, precincts across the county did not have enough voting machines, leaving some voters in line for up to seven hours, and hundreds of ballots turned up uncounted days later.
South Carolina: Richland County Council agrees to pay $100K in election-related lawyers’ fees | The State
RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — Richland County Council finally agreed Tuesday to pay more than $100,000 in bills for the lawyers who cleaned up the county’s November election mess. But not until after some unusual procedural moves, a change of heart by two members and the chairman’s threat to enforce a time limit for Councilman Bill Malinowski as he questioned charges for travel and telephone conversations. The council, which had put off the decision twice before, agreed to pay $72,423.10 for lawyer Steve Hamm to investigate Election Day problems and recommend how to fix them; $9,348.75 for lawyer John Nichols, who represented demoted elections director Lillian McBride; and $17,924.20 for Helen McFadden, who kept the election results from being overturned in court. “Who didn’t have a lawyer?” Councilman Greg Pearce muttered at one point.
Richland County should refuse to pay for the hours charged by a lawyer who helped negotiate a new county job for demoted elections director Lillian McBride, some on County Council said Wednesday. Others said Richland County has no obligation to cover any of the legal bills — more than $153,000 — for investigating what went wrong during Nov. 6 balloting and defending the election results in court. Councilman Seth Rose objected to the legal department’s request for the money, saying he’s frustrated the county had to boost funding for the elections office last year even though county officials have no hand in supervising its performance. That job goes to local legislators, who also set the funding. Ultimately, council members deferred action.
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.
Embattled Richland County Election Commission executive director Lillian McBride has submitted her resignation to the commission. In a letter dated on Jan. 3 from her attorney to the commission, McBride relinquished control of the commission and took the blame for what happened on Election Day. McBride and other members of the county elections commission were criticized after voters were forced to wait as long as seven hours to vote. “In taking this action, I accept fully the responsibility for what occurred during the election on November 6, 2012,” said McBride in the letter.