South Carolina is one of the nation’s least-prepared states heading into this fall’s election because of its voting system, a new study says.

The report, “Counting Votes 2012: A State-by-State Look at Voting Technology Preparedness,” rated South Carolina as having an inadequate post-election audit procedure, and it was among six states deemed under-prepared to deal with unexpected machine failures.

Susannah Goodman, director of the Voting Integrity Program at Common Cause, said computers crash, and voting machines are no different. One of South Carolina’s biggest problems is that it is one of 16 states that still use paperless voting machines, she said.

“If those machines malfunction, there’s no way to independently check what the actual voter’s intent was,” she said. “In these 16 states, we’re very vulnerable to miscounts that won’t be caught.”

The report found several potential problems with voting technologies in use across the nation, a sobering reality considering how close many experts predict this year’s presidential election will be.

However, GOP-leaning South Carolina is not expected to be among the “swing states” where the presidential race is expected to be very close.

The nonprofit groups Verified Voting and Common Cause, as well as the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic, released the report Wednesday.

South Carolina’s iVotronic voting machines have been under scrutiny for at least two years, as some questioned if they played a role in Democrat Alvin Greene’s surprising primary win over fellow Senate candidate and Charleston County Councilman Vic Rawl in 2010.

At the request of then Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, South Carolina’s Legislative Audit Council has begun its own probe into the machines.

State election officials have stood by the iVotronic system, and said that it has worked as it was designed and that problems have been caused mostly by human errors. However, they noted that it is aging and should be replaced in a few years.

While the state’s ballot-reconciliation and polling-place contingency plans ranked generally good, the report contained an error spotted by Brett Bursey of the SC Progressive Network.

Bursey said South Carolina law says no precinct shall have emergency ballots for no more than 10 percent of its registered voters, “but none is ‘no more than 10 percent.’ There’s no requirement that there should be some on hand. That should bring us down a notch.”

Pam Smith, president of the Verified Voting Foundation, agreed with Bursey’s point. “The goal here is to prepare so if something goes wrong, people have paper to vote on,” she said.

South Carolina also was among the states criticized for allowing overseas military personnel and other citizens abroad to return their ballots via email. Smith said that poses a security risk. “This Internet that we’re using today is not mature enough to be used for voting,” she said.

Marci Andino, director of the State Election Commission, said the report doesn’t recognize the state’s comprehensive audit process it began after the 2010 election.

She also said state voters living abroad are disenfranchised at a higher rate than other voters, so allowing them to email ballots helps. She said the state is refining an electronic ballot delivery method for military voters that will be in place later this year.

Goodman said among the positive trends nationally is that no states are buying new voting machines that don’t have a paper trail, and more states are doing audits or “intelligent recounts” to ensure their machines and procedures are working OK.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.