Paper ballots snarl election
by The Press and Standard | November 7, 2018 5:00 pm
Last Updated: November 7, 2018 at 10:02 am
Colleton County Voter Registration and Election Director Angela Upchurch started Tuesday’s election in crisis mode.
It was about 6 a.m., about an hour before the polls for the General Election were set to open, when she got her first call from a precinct worker reporting something was wrong with the electronic voting equipment.
“Then I got another call, then another call,” Upchurch said.
What she learned was that a few days before the General Election, the seasonal workers who assisted in preparing for the election made a mistake.
When they were sealing the communications packages, they had mislabeled all of the packages for the county’s 32 voting precincts.
For instance, when the precinct workers assigned to the Bells precinct, they could not get their electronic voting machines to work. They determined that the Personal Electronic Ballot (PEB) devices they had were programmed for the Islandton precinct.
The PEBs are the rectangular plastic devices that poll workers plug into the electronic voting machines to prepare them for a voter.
A PEB programmed for Islandton precinct will not work at Bells.
“The seasonal help didn’t realize how everything was supposed to match up and we didn’t catch them doing it,” Upchurch said. “It was human error. Everybody had to start the day off with emergency paper ballots.”
While precinct workers were handing out paper ballots, election technicians and office staff were fanned out in the county to get the proper PEBs to the right precinct.
By 11 a.m., Upchurch said the precincts had the electronic voting machines up and running.
Some precincts used up all their emergency paper ballots in the first hours of the election. They then had to move on to using paper failsafe ballots.
The failsafe paper ballots have all of the county’s 28 different ballot types on them. Before voters could use them, poll workers had to go through them and mark over all the other ballot types to ensure that the voter was casting the right ballot for his or her precinct.
Some early voters, Upchurch said, left the precinct without casting a vote. Some didn’t want to vote paper ballots, she said. Others saw that voting was going to take more time and had to get to their places of employment.
Dealing with a high number of paper ballots during Tuesday night’s unofficial count, Upchurch said, resulted in a lot of extra work — work that came at the end of a very long day.
Her words were prophetic.
The office personnel and members of the Colleton County Voter Registration and Elections Commission spent the bulk of Tuesday night dealing with the high number of paper ballots that were cast in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Before the paper ballots could be scanned through the reader, the election workers had to handle a number of verification procedures.
They even had to unfold the paper ballots and smooth out the kinks to ensure that the paper would run through the scanner.
The problem at the beginning of the Election Day left the commission members with the task of counting 1,819 paper ballots.
That caused the election office to be swamped literally and figuratively.
As the commission members were working their way through the paper ballots, poll workers from the county’s 32 precincts delivering their equipment began arriving at election headquarters.
By 9 p.m., the line of poll workers and equipment wound around the main lobby of the elections office and out the front door. Fortunately, the rain had stopped by then.
Traditionally, commission members would post printouts of the absentee and precinct totals on a bulletin board where the results could be surveyed.
At 11 p.m., there still wasn’t anything posted on the bulletin board. Poll workers were camped out in the lobby, sitting on the carpet beside their election equipment.
A chair in the corner was claimed by Colleton County Councilman Gene Whetsell. His bid for re-election was the only contested county government race. His Democratic opponent, David Gar Linder, was outside in the parking lot on his cell phone.
A few minutes after midnight, the South Carolina Election Commission shut down Election Central, the internet vote reporting center for the night. Four of South Carolina’s counties — Colleton, Allendale, Williamsburg and York — were listed as having partial returns. At that time the state commission reported Colleton’s partial vote totals, depending on the race, hovered around 60 percent with 7,855 of 24,091 votes recorded (32.61%.)
Upchurch said the office staff and members of the commission continued to work through the night, finishing the count about 4:30 a.m.