SC Election Commission among 10 worst prepared: but “things that apply to other states don’t apply to South Carolina”

Update 10/28/08 – Early voters are already reporting problems with the ES&S machines in at least six states according to Facing South.  The problems seem to be related to improper callibration of the touch-screen, making the machine read a vote on one candidates’s button as for another candidate.

As this Oct 21, 2008 CNN video demonstrates, poll workers manually set the sensitivity of the touch-screen buttons on each machine.   Its easy to see how inattention or malice could lead to innaccurate returns.  This is also why the poll workers, election comissioners and voting machine suppliers blame the voters: they just aren’t finding the ‘right’ area of the screen. (transcript here).  These are the same ES&S iVotronic machines used in SC.

This sensitivity to improper calibration is the achilles heel of the touch-screen machines. If they are that prone to poor preparation, then they are wrong for use in elections.

A fuller discussion of the South Carolina problem reported in the Island Packet (Hilton Head) by Nancy Roe is found here:  The author, John Gideon of, helpfully points toward Section 301 of the Help America Vote Act, which would be violated by the reported problems.

Incidentally, CNN has done 56 stories on problems reported with ES&S machines in the last few years.


South Carolina is among the ten worst prepared states for the November 4 election.  That’s the word from the Brennan Center for Justice in their just released report “Is America Ready to Vote?

Some states are not at all ready.  South Carolina is one of them.   

Morris Newspapers quoted a statement from the South Carolina Election Commission that:

‘the report seeks to “undermine public confidence in … our country’s election process,” the commission said.

The report may undermine public confidence in the South Carolina Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia electoral systems which received the worst rankings.  But it will increase confidence in the Alaska, California, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, and Oregon systems, which received the best rankings.

The SC Electoral Commission statement went on to criticize Brennan Center saying that the ‘…report reflects an “agenda” that insists elections are only fair and accurate if voter-verified paper ballots are used.’

The SCEC has a bias against verifiable voting.  When a Florida state commission’s investigation found Electronic Systems & Software’s iVotronic machines to be unreliable, SC Electoral Commission spokesperson Gary Baum reacted by saying that SC would buy the machines rejected by Florida. Baum said to the Spartanburg Herald Journal, Other states have had problems, which have led to questions about our system,” Baum said. “But things that apply to other states don’t apply to South Carolina.

Research conducted by Voters Unite found 51 failures of ES&S machines in recent years:

On the plus side, South Carolina is generally good in polling place contingencies, it needs improvement in ballot reconciliation and is inadequate in keeping paper records of votes and post election auditing.  You can read a summary of the report here:  A 188 page PDF of the entire report, covering the whole U.S. is here: Is America Ready To Vote?

Since its a busy world and people have things to do, I’m going to give you the South Carolina portions of this report in whole quotes below.  The unaltered footnotes follow.

Source: ‘IS AMERICA READY TO VOTE? state preparations for voting machine problems in 2008‘. Written by Lawrence Norden and Laura Seago, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law; Susannah Goodman, Common Cause Education Fund; Sean Flaherty and Pamela Smith, Verified Voting Foundation. Published October 16, 2008.

Page 1:

In the Republican presidential primary in Horry County, South Carolina, touch screen machines in 80% of precincts temporarily failed, and a number of precincts ran out of paper ballots and sent voters to cast provisional ballots at other precincts.6

6.Domenico Montanaro, SC Voting Problems, FIRST READ, Jan. 19, 2008, available at

Page 14:

On Jan. 19, 2008 in Horry County, S.C., during the Republican primary, the electronic iVotronic voting machines would not start up. Eighty percent of the precincts were affected in Horry County and in 15 precincts; all of the electronic voting machines were inoperable for at least part of the day. Poll workers handed out paper ballots in the affected precincts, but some of the precincts ran out of paper ballots. Voters were sent to other precincts to cast provisional ballots.15

15. Press Release, Common Cause, South Carolina Voting Machine Failure
Underscores Need for Swift Federal Action for Voting Security (Jan. 22, 2008), available at

Page 23:

Fourteen states require emergency paper ballots at the polls, but four (Maryland, Alaska,
Pennsylvania and South Carolina) limit deployment of emergency paper ballots until all the machines in a precinct malfunction are inoperable. This policy ties the hands of election workers.

Page 37:

South Carolina

The contingency plans in South Carolina are generally good but need improvement in specific areas.
Procedures in place for machine repair or replacement in the event of failures South Carolina has procedures for the repair or replacement of voting machines in the event of malfunction. South Carolina law provides that if a voting machine becomes inoperative, poll workers must notify “the commissioners of election or other electoral board,” who are in charge of the election at the county level.120 The commissioners must attempt to provide a substitute machine for the polling place.121 The commissioners must also attempt to repair the machine.122

Making sure emergency paper ballots are available at the polling place in the event of long lines
South Carolina requires emergency paper ballots to be kept at the polling place, but only requires deployment in the event all machines fail. State law requires that paper ballots be provided where voting machines are used, but it limits the number of pre-printed ballots to 10% of registered voters.123 However, if the 10% is not enough, election managers must provide voters with ballots “made as nearly as possible in the form of the official ballot.”124 The law states that these ballots are the same as official ballots for election purposes.125 In other words, the law allows election workers to trouble shoot — perhaps photocopying ballots in an emergency situation — and guarantees these ballots will be treated the same as official ballots. Finally, the law requires that “failsafe ballots, or ballots containing only the races for federal, statewide, countywide and municipalwide offices,” also be provided at polling places. However, the quantity is limited to 5% of registered voters.126
Emergency paper ballots may be used when “no other machine is available for use at such election and the injured one cannot be repaired in time to continue use thereof at such election.”127
Recommendation: The contingency plans in South Carolina need improvement because the law restricts the number of official paper ballots allowed at the polling place to 10% of registered voters and of failsafe ballots to 5% of registered voters. Although the law allows for trouble shooting — creating and providing ballots “nearly in the form of the official ballot” — this must occur on Election Day. In Horry County, during the Jan. 19, 2008 Republican primary, 80% of the machines could not be activated at the start of the day due to a programming error. Some of the precincts reportedly ran out of paper ballots and were sending voters to other precincts to cast provisional ballots. It is not desirable to restrict election workers to providing only a certain number of official emergency and failsafe ballots before the election. While the law allows election workers to improvise on Election Day if there is a crisis, it should not prevent them from adequate preparation before the election. South Carolina law should be changed to lift the restriction on the number of official emergency paper ballots that can be provided in the polling place on Election Day.

120 S. C. CODE ANN. § 7-13-1870 (2008).
121 Id.
122 Id.
123 S. C. CODE ANN. § 7-13-430(A) (2008).
124 S. C. CODE ANN. § 7-13-430(B) (2008).
125 Id.
126 S. C. CODE ANN. § 7-13-430(C) (2008).
127 S. C. CODE ANN. § 7-13-1870 (2008).

Pages 119-120:

South Carolina
South Carolina’s ballot reconciliation procedures need improvement.

Account for all ballots, votes, and voters
After locking machines against further voting at the close of the polls, election managers must open each machine so that it is visible to all canvassers and observers.804 They then canvass and announce vote totals for each office and the votes for every candidate or question.805 Poll managers are required to return all voting materials.806 Poll managers must endorse a certificate that includes the number on the protective counter of each machine and return this certificate to the county election officials,807 along with the poll list and a written return of the election.808 We recommend retaining all election records and returning them after the close of polls.

Reconcile vote and ballot totals and address discrepancies at the polling place. County officials reported comparing the number of signatures in the poll books with the number of votes cast in each precinct.809 If the number of votes tabulated on voting machines exceeds the number of voters on the poll list, vote totals for each candidate will be reduced proportionate to the fraction of the votes she received to reconcile the totals.810 This is essentially an electronic version of removing excess ballots from the ballot box at random, and it is an unsatisfactory method of reconciliation. We recommend investigating the cause of any discrepancies and seeking to explain them if they cannot be resolved.

Reconcile redundancies at the county level
The county board of canvassers reviews the results provided by the precincts.811 Although this process is not required by law, county election commissions are required to compare paper voting machine total tapes to electronic precinct-level totals.812 If they discover a discrepancy during this comparison, they must locate the error and correct it before certifying the results.813 If the number of votes cast exceeds the number of voters on the poll list by 10% or more, the county election officials will order a revote for voters who are identified as having voted in the original election at the polling place in question.814 The board of canvassers must make a certified statement of the results from each precinct, which it forwards to the state board of canvassers;815 results are separated by candidate and the votes received for each.816 The state board of canvassers receives these canvassed precinct returns and makes a statement of the total number of votes received by each candidate or question.817 According to the State Election Commission, this statement is broken down by precinct.818 There are no formal laws or procedures in place governing reconciliation of memory cards with tally server totals; While the secretary of state’s office asserts that safeguards exist on the county level to ensure that all the results from voting machines used in the election are accounted for,819 county officials only report that the server prompts them to enter all memory cards.820 While this is an adequate safeguard to ensure that all memory cards have been loaded, it offers no assurance that all memory cards have been read. We recommend implementing explicit, statewide requirements that totals tapes from all voting machines or tabulators be compared with tally server totals.

Make all results public
County canvassing boards are required by law to file duplicate statements of the canvass with the State Election Commission.821 The secretary of state also publishes its certified statement of the results of the election in at least one of the public newspapers in the state.822 Detailed precinct results for each county are posted on the State Election Commission website.823

Recommendation: South Carolina’s ballot reconciliation procedures are generally good, but need improvement in specific areas. While the state has good procedures in place for reconciliations at the county level and in making results public, its precinct-level reconciliations are unsatisfactory. We recommend investigating the cause of any discrepancies between the number of voters and the number of votes cast and seeking to explain them if they cannot be resolved. We also recommend implementing explicit, statewide requirements that totals tapes from all voting machines or tabulators be compared with tally server totals.

804 S.C. CODE ANN. § 7-13-1880 (2007).
805 Id.
806 Id.
807 S.C. CODE ANN. § 7-13-1890 (2007).
808 S.C. CODE ANN. § 7-13-1150 (2007).
809 E-mail Interview with Debra Bryant, Dir. of Voter Registration, Hampton County, S.C. (Oct. 10, 2008) (on file with the Brennan Center); E-mail Interview with Marilyn Bowers, Executive Dir., Bd. of Elections & Voter Registration, Charleston County, S.C. (Sept. 29, 2008) (on file with the Brennan Center).
810 S.C. CODE ANN. § 7-13-1140 (2007).
811 See S.C. CODE ANN. § 7-17-20
812 E-mail Interview with Chris Whitmire, Pub. Info. Officer, S.C. State Election Comm’n (Sept. 25, 2008) (on file with the Brennan Center) [hereinafter Chris Whitmire interview]; see also E-mail Interview with Katy Smith, Voter Registration & Elections Dir., Anderson County, S.C. (Oct. 1, 2008) (on file with the Brennan Center).
813 Chris Whitmire interview, supra note 811.
814 S.C. CODE ANN. § 7-13-1140 (2007).
815 S.C. CODE ANN. § 7-17-80 (2007).
816 S.C. CODE ANN. § 7-17-100 (2007).
817 S.C. CODE ANN. § 7-17-240 (2007).
818 Chris Whitmire interview, supra note 811.
819 Id.
820 See E-mail Interview with Joseph Debney, Dir. of Elections & Voter Registration, Dorchester County, S.C. (Oct. 2, 2008) (on file with the Brennan Center). See also E-mail Interview with Kelly Futch, Pub. Works Clerk, Hampton County, S.C. (Oct. 1, 2008) (on file with the Brennan Center); E-mail interview with Marlyn Bowers, Executive Dir., Bd. of Elections & Voter Registration, Charleston County, S.C. (Sept. 29, 2008) (on file with the Brennan Center); E-mail Interview with Katy Smith, Voter Registration & Elections Dir., Anderson County, S.C. (Oct. 1, 2008) (on file with the Brennan Center).
821 S.C. CODE ANN. § 7-17-90 (2007).
822 S.C. CODE ANN. § 7-17-320 (2007).
823 South Carolina State Election Commission, Election Returns, (last visited Oct. 8, 2008).
824 S.D. CODIFIED LAWS § 12-17B-9 (2008).

Page 137, 139:

Voter-Verifiable Paper Records

South Carolina: Inadequate

…even where good ballot accounting and reconciliation lets us know that certain votes have one uncounted, such knowledge will not necessarily allow us to find the uncounted votes. For  instance, in November 2004 in Carteret County, N.C., a memory limitation on the county’s  touch screen machine caused 4,500 votes to be lost. Because the machines did not have a  paper trail, it was impossible to determine how those lost votes should have been counted.981

Nineteen states [including South Carolina] use voting machines without a software independent  voter-verifiable paper record. In these states, there is a risk that, as happened in Carteret  ounty in 2004, vote totals could be corrupted or lost, and there would be no way to recover  oters’ actual choices.

In response to the concern that software errors in voting machines could result in inaccurate readings of votes, or votes lost entirely, the Technical Guidelines Development Committee of the Election Assistance Commission has recommended new standards for future voting systems that would require voting systems to produce a voter-verifiable voting record that is independent of the software.982

981 “Two weeks later, no final count in N.C. race,” Nov. 16, 2004, The News and Observer, by Lynn Bonner
982 U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Technical Guidelines Development Committee, TGDC Recommended
Guidelines, Part 1, Chapter 2, Section 7, available at:


South Carolina: Inadequate

States were given points toward a grade of “good” or “generally good” for audits that are (1) robust (examining more than just one or two contests), (2) comprehensive (auditing all types of systems/ballots), (3) timely (selection starts after initial count is published and completed before results are finalized) and (4) transparent and random (conducting an observably random selection of units to be audited, and of the audit count). States were also given credit for having statutory provisions that trigger expansion of the audit if unexplained discrepancies are found. To achieve an “excellent” grade, a state would have to require all of the foregoing, plus use risk-limiting or statistical audits. No states currently do so.

Points were subtracted for lack of transparency, incompleteness (that the audit cannot be — or is not required to be — conducted statewide), carrying out the random selection of machines or precincts too early (prior to election night) or where there is no clear requirement to audit top-of-the-ticket contests (e.g. president, governor, etc.).

If a state had an insufficient number of positive points, or had sufficient points subtracted, it would receive a “needs improvement” grade. Where audit requirements are in place but cannot be conducted in all jurisdictions (e.g., where some counties or systems are paperless), those states were automatically given a “needs improvement” grade. Similarly, states where an audit will be conducted this November but where there is no legal requirement to do so were automatically given a “needs improvement” grade.
States given an “inadequate” ranking will have no post-election audits this November.

Page 157: Conclusion

We urge states to do what they can to improve their procedures in the remaining weeks before the election. In the longer term, states should enact laws that will allow election officials to adequately deal with a number of potential voting system failures. For states with paperless DREs, that means changing systems so that every voter can review and confirm their vote on a paper record independent of a voting machine’s software. For states that already use voter verifiable paper records, it means passing laws that require officials to audit those paper records after every election to ensure that the machine count is accurate. For states using DREs, whether or not they produce a paper record, it means mandating a minimum number of emergency paper ballots in the event that machines fail. For all states, it means strengthening voting system security and requiring ballot accounting and reconciliation procedures that will give us greater confidence that all votes have been counted.
Most states and counties will not experience major voting system failures this election. But that fact should not lull them into complacency. Every national election since 2000 has shown us the same thing: Voting systems sometimes fail. Voters in jurisdictions with poor procedures should not have to wait, as others have in the past, for a system failure to cause the loss of thousands of votes, or shake the public’s confidence in the fairness and accuracy of their elections, before lawmakers and election officials adopt the best procedures to  prevent such meltdowns.



Posted on October 22, 2008, in South Carolina and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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