Marcia Fudge hearing

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, falsely claimed during a May 8 congressional hearing that South Carolina had purchased her state's old and faulty voting machines. The S.C. Election Commission on Thursday sent her a letter to inform her she was wrong. Screenshot.

South Carolinians now have another reason to bemoan some people from Ohio.

State election officials are setting the record straight after a veteran Ohio lawmaker in Washington falsely claimed South Carolina purchased her state's old and faulty voting machines.

In a two-page letter to U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, the State Election Commission refuted her problematic comments at a time when Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election still lingers in the minds of voters nationwide.

"At no point has South Carolina purchased machines for its current voting system once used in, but later decertified or otherwise discarded by, the State of Ohio," the letter from the Election Commission's attorney stated.

"The machines currently used in South Carolina were newly manufactured when purchased as part of the procurement of a statewide voting system in 2004. Furthermore, we are not aware of any instance in which an individual county has since purchased additional machines previously used in Ohio," the letter continued.

The letter was written in response to a comment Fudge, a Democrat, made about 90 minutes into a recent congressional hearing on election security.

The nine-member Committee on House Administration, which held the May 8 hearing, has made election security one of its top issues this session and has been traveling the country to gather information about the state of America's voting system.

None of the congressional members on the committee represent South Carolina, and none of the witnesses who were called to testify that day were from South Carolina.

"I'm from Ohio by the way, a state that thought that our machines were so awful we got rid of them, but South Carolina bought them," Fudge said, eliciting a smattering of laughter from attendees and a smirk from the man sitting directly behind her.

She reacted to the laughter by doubling down on her false claim.

"This is true," Fudge insisted, nodding her head up and down. "South Carolina bought all the machines we got rid of because they were not effective."

State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said the intent of the letter was not to embarrass or shame the congresswoman but to give her and the committee the truth. The letter was also sent to each committee member, including its chairperson U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.

Not responding to the false statement, Whitmire said, was not an option.

"The more something is repeated, the more it becomes accepted as fact. We wanted to set the record straight and provide the congresswoman and the committee with accurate information," Whitmire told The Post and Courier.

Whitmire also said it was the first time he had ever heard such a claim made about the source of the state's voting machines, and could not give any indication about what could have been the original source of the misinformation.

Whitmire said an Election Commission staffer brought the comment to the attention of the commission's leaders after watching a live-stream of the hearing. 

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A spokeswoman for the congresswoman said Friday her office had neither received a physical or electronic copy of the letter nor do they have a record of receiving the letter from the commission.

When asked about the source of Fudge’s statement, the spokeswoman said she was not aware of the source, but will be better able to update the newspaper once she has an opportunity to speak with the congresswoman, who was traveling back to her Cleveland district.

Election officials from 31 states, including South Carolina and Ohio, told researchers at the Brennan Center replacing their voting machines by 2020 is an urgent need. The most recent voting mishap in South Carolina came in January when it was learned ballots cast by 1,040 Richland County voters were not counted in last November’s election.

Officials want the new voting system implemented by January 2020, ahead of the next presidential election. Whitmire said an evaluation panel is reviewing the bids received, and is planning to announce its choice by June.

During the hearing, Fudge made a point of asking elected officials how to instill voter confidence.

"What do I tell people who have no confidence in our system? What do I tell people who believe that there is no integrity, that don't believe their votes count?" she asked.

Whitmire offered up a suggestion.

"The best way we can do that is to get good accurate information out there and be transparent about elections. Anything that's out there that is not true undermines confidence."

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.

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