Emily Harbin, SCDWC Member, 4th Congressional District
February 28, 2013
Republicans argue that the passage of the South Carolina voter ID law will prevent fraud. Yet the emphasis seems to be in the wrong place, as the law does nothing to address the real voting issues. In Spartanburg County, numerous voting problems arose that illustrate the problems facing South Carolina as a whole.
In the 2012 primary election, in which Deb Morrow successfully challenged Jimmy Tobias for the Democratic nomination for the District 4 Congressional race, Democrats were turned away by poll workers in several precincts and told that there was no Democratic race. This points to both poor training of poll workers and an overall disregard for Democratic voters.
In the general election, many people received incorrect absentee ballots. The state-wide redistricting changes (challenged by Democrats because of concerns over racial gerrymandering) were upheld by the Supreme Court on Oct. 1. Tens of thousands of voters statewide changed districts, placing the burden on county election offices to correct their rolls and ensure that voters received correct ballots. In Spartanburg County, 41 voters (out of the 840 who changed districts) were issued absentee ballots for the incorrect district because it took until Oct. 18 to correct the rolls. Henrietta Bruton of Lyman, who wanted to vote for her nephew Henri Thompson (running for state Senate in District 12), was not among those affected by the redistricting change. But she received an incorrect absentee ballot anyway. Those who received incorrect ballots were allowed to vote with the correct ballot, but only if they found the error themselves, did not submit the incorrect ballot, and also requested a proper ballot from the elections office. Chris Whitmire from the South Carolina Elections Commission attempted to defend the situation by asserting that in years past many of these voters would not have even been found until after the election.
Voting machine failure was also a problem in several districts. In the Cherokee Springs district none of the voting machines were working and the precinct ran out of paper ballots. A similar problem arose at the Woodland Heights precinct. In Woodruff, a multitude of problems occurred. There were not enough functional machines and 200 people remained in line to vote when the polls were supposed to close at 7 pm. Paper ballots were distributed improperly, with an unknown number of voters receiving ballots for city and county elections in which they might not have been eligible to vote. Eventually the Woodruff mayoral race was overturned due to a direct challenge by one of the mayoral candidates.
These problems do not illustrate that Spartanburg County is worse than any other county in South Carolina. In fact, Spartanburg County probably is better than most. South Carolina as a whole is behind the curve when it comes to voting machines. Unlike the equipment used in many other states, the computerized voting equipment in South Carolina does not provide any kind of voter-verifiable paper audit trail. In other words, there’s no real way to do a recount in the case of programming error, equipment malfunction, or tampering. Yet instead of purchasing new, more reliable machines, taxpayer money must go instead to purchasing equipment to help process voter IDs. Poll workers, some of whom are already struggling with the current system, must now learn new technology and how to respond to those without proper ID. These problems are happening statewide and will persist until voters insist on better priorities. With efforts by some states to over-turn the Voting Rights Acts, things will only get worse, unless we act together to fight against these injustices.
Quotations and statistics taken from the following articles:
“Redistricting Changes Create Ballot Confusion for some Upstate Voters” by Andrew Doughman, October 25, GoUpstate.com http://www.goupstate.com/article/20121025/ARTICLES/210261009?p=1&tc=pg
“Voting Problems Being Reported in Spartanburg County” by Felicia Kitzmiller, November 6, Goupstate.com http://www.goupstate.com/article/20121106/ARTICLES/121109826