Voting machine (copy)

Voting machines from South Carolina. File 

South Carolina election officials have taken a key step toward replacing the state's 13,000 outdated voting machines and want the new system to generate a paper record after each ballot is cast.

The state Election Commission on Friday outlined its call for a "statewide voting system solution" in a request for proposal, or RFP.

The RFP marks the first formal step in soliciting contracts or bids from voting system vendors.

Officials want the new system implemented by January 2020, ahead of the next presidential election.

The touchscreen machines South Carolina voters have used since 2004 provide no paper record, making the Palmetto State one of five states where voting machines do not leave a paper trail behind. That means when there's a contested election or a suspected security breach, there is currently no paper component for auditing results.

"Just about everybody who has a stake in an election has expressed support for replacing the current voting system with a system that has paper," said commission spokesman Chris Whitmire.

Whitmire said the commission is asking for proposals for two different types of systems: ballot marking devices and hand-marked optical scan systems.

With hand-marked optical scan system, ballots would be printed ahead of time and voters would make their choices by hand before submitting them into an electronic scanner.

Under a ballot marking device system, voters would make their selection as they do now on a touchscreen but then a printed ballot of their selections would be generated after they finish voting.

Whitmire said the paper trail generated from a voting machine would clearly show voters their picks.

It would not be a bar code that could only be read by a machine, a concern of some legislators who have been demanding a paper ballot system, he said.

The commission wants the Legislature to provide $60 million in the state budget to replace the machines.

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That request worries Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, even though he believes the time is right to replace the voting system.

"Should $60 million be a starting point for a new statewide voting machine system? Absolutely not. I don't know why you would start with $60 million," McElveen said, later admitting he does not have a specific number he's comfortable spending.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said he is not concerned about the $60 million request, but is concerned about instilling voter confidence before the 2020 election.

"It's the foundation of our democracy. Nothing is more important than that," he said.

After technical glitches like dying batteries, temperamental touchscreens and power cord failures contributed to delays across the state during last month's midterm elections, the South Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the state Election Commission Director Marci Andino asking her to demand the Legislature fund new machines.

Proposals for South Carolina's next voting system are due by March 4, 2019.

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.