Rokey Suleman

Former Richland County Elections Director Rokey Suleman. Provided

COLUMBIA — After being told he had lost the confidence of his board in the wake of not counting 1,040 votes in the fall, the Richland County elections director announced his resignation effective immediately.

Rokey Suleman will receive his pay through the end of his two-year contract on April 30, interim Board of Voter Registration and Elections chairwoman Jane Emerson said Monday.

Suleman submitted a report to the board two weeks ago detailing how the county missed votes on election night in November.

Richland County missed 832 in-person absentee votes from two voting machines that malfunctioned and 208 votes from two machines at two precincts that were closed incorrectly. The state Elections Commission alerted the county about the shortage. 

The missing count would not have changed the outcome of any races, Suleman told The Post and Courier last month. The former director over elections in Washington, D.C., pledged to avoid the similar problems in the future and laid out solutions in his report.

But the missing ballots were another blunder in a line of problems during Richland County elections dating back to 2010 when the county certified incorrect election results after 1,100 votes were not counted.

In 2012, Richland County failed to deploy enough machines that led to excessively long lines and missed the state’s vote certification deadline. The county needed state help after missing a recount deadline in the 2016 primary, as well.

Suleman was hired in 2017, the fourth county elections director since the problems began eight years ago.

Emerson said several members of the Richland County legislative delegation, which appoints the Elections Board, reached out to express their concerns about the latest misstep. The board is scheduled to talk about the missed votes at a meeting Wednesday. 

"This is a real political job and that's a big concern when that many votes are miscounted," Emerson said.  

Suleman's end came during a phone call Saturday from county Elections Board member Pete Kennedy, who said he told the director he had lost confidence of the board and should resign.

"His job is to make sure all the votes are counted and since they did not get counted, he has to be held accountable," Kennedy said.

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At the end of the call, Kennedy said Suleman told him that he was resigning immediately.

Kennedy praised Suleman for reorganizing the office and installing improved systems, but the director was ultimately responsible for the missing votes, even though it was not all his fault: "The buck stopped with him."

Suleman did not return a call and text Monday seeking comment.

State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Columbia, called missing votes "gross negligence" and plans on attending the board meeting Wednesday. He said he would consider moving to replace board members, including one who received a warning letter from Gov. Henry McMaster last week for failing to get proper certification. 

"I am ashamed as an elected official in Richland County of the job that (the board) has been doing," he said. "What happened in 2018 is not unique experience, that has been going on for years."

Deputy Richland County Elections Director Thad Hall, who joined the office in September, will take over for Suleman in the interim, Emerson said. Hall was a senior political scientist at the Fors Marsh Group, an Arlington, Va., research firm, and worked on a voting technology project at the University of Utah.

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Columbia Bureau Chief

Shain runs The Post and Courier's team based in South Carolina's capital city. He was editor of Free Times and has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Charlotte, Columbia and Myrtle Beach.