Richland County elections chief is sorry for mess
COLUMBIA — The woman responsible for running elections in Richland County gave its legislative delegation several apologies but not a lot of answers for the long lines and vote-counting troubles.
The lawmakers called Monday’s meeting to get answers as to why the county used fewer voting machines than prescribed by law, causing some people to wait more than five hours to cast ballots.
Richland County Elections and Voter Registration Director Lillian McBride, speaking extensively for the first time since the Nov. 6 vote, opened her remarks with an apology.
“I first want to publicly acknowledge that there were unique difficulties here in Richland County because of mistakes made within my office. For that, I am humbly sorry and I express my heartfelt apology,” McBride said.
Several lawmakers demanded specifics on exactly what those mistakes were. Each time, McBride told them she didn’t have answers and apologized again.
Eventually, McBride said a worker in her office got columns on a spreadsheet confused, mistaking the number of voting machines needed for each precinct for a separate list of the smaller number of personal electronic ballots — devices used to operate the machines. She said she hadn’t figured out which worker made that mistake.
The county was plagued by an unusual number of battery failures, sometimes with brand new ones. McBride and other election officials have not figured out why that happened either.
The county also struggled to count votes, certifying results a week after the rest of the state. Part of that problem came after extra absentee ballots printed on site used different sized type, meaning the ovals that voters filled out were not properly aligned. That error was discovered hours after the polls closed when absentee vote counts were coming back with zero tallies for some candidates, said Richland County Elections Commission Chairwoman Liz Crum.
Election officials promised a detailed report within 30 days explaining what happened and how it won’t happen again. Several lawmakers weren’t happy it would take that long to get more information and said the meeting provided few answers.
“You’re willing to apologize, but I haven’t seen any effort to hold you accountable or hold the delegation accountable,” said Rep. Mia Butler Garrick, D-Columbia, whose precincts in northeast Richland County had some of the longest waits.
The Richland County legislative delegation agreed to merge its voter registration and elections offices last year, naming McBride the director. There were apparently some problems between McBride and longtime elections director Mike Cinnamon that kept the two from working together for the 2012 election. Delegation chairman Sen. Darrell Jackson asked lawmakers not to get into those problems, promising to talk about them behind closed doors.
The delegation also didn’t discuss whether to fire McBride, although some lawmakers suggested that conversation would need to take place.