Will Richland County ever get elections right?
Tuesday’s primary elections in Richland County were eerily similar to the general elections debacle of 2012. It was obvious that the Richland County Election Commission was grossly unprepared for the unprecedented challenges of voting during a global pandemic. And the voters of Richland County deserve a sincere, heartfelt apology.
Combined polling places, staffing shortages, polling place confusion and COVID-19 safety precautions proved to be insurmountable. Lines were ridiculously long. Some waited 4-8 hours. Many voters were forced to brave dangerously hot temperatures. Some had to leave without voting. Curbside voting was slow, if available at all. Outside, lines were wrapped around buildings. Inside, there was little to no room for social distancing--putting black and brown voters, as well as other vulnerable populations at risk of COVID-19 exposure.
A USC student who lives in my district recently set a personal goal to register 10 of his peers each day, assuring them that the processes to register and vote were simple and not time-consuming. After casting his first vote on Tuesday, he feels he misled them. And he’s precisely the kind of new, enthusiastic voter we risk losing if we don’t make the necessary changes now, in Richland County.
Reports ranged from malfunctioning machines to handwritten, inaccurate, incomplete ballots and party-ballot mix-ups…all of which are senseless, shameful and unacceptable. We shouldn’t have to pack a meal, lawn-chair and sleeping bag, just to cast our votes.
To ensure transparency, accountability and begin to restore trust in our electoral process, it’s incumbent upon each member of the Richland County Legislative Delegation to ask ourselves, “What can we, as a delegation, do to ensure that what happened on Tuesday doesn’t happen again?”
While Richland County struggled to provide an efficient voting process, counties across SC faced similar challenges. That’s why I’m developing a comprehensive legislative proposal that includes the initiatives below. I’m also asking that our Legislative Delegation meet and work with State and County Election Commissions as well as other state and local leaders, to ensure that our county elections processes are as quick, easy, accessible and secure as we can make them—during this pandemic and beyond:
My Statewide Legislative Proposals:
Vote by Mail program
No Excuse Absentee Voting
Secure Absentee Ballot drop-box receptacles at each polling place that voters can use (regardless of precinct) on Election Day
Mandatory Opening of all County Election Commissions on Saturdays before statewide elections
Curbside Voting Centers (regardless of precinct)
Electronic Voting Program for Disabled voters
State & County Election Commissions
The State Election Commission should closely supervise the Richland County Election Commission, identify the deficiencies and establish and implement a plan to correct them
The County Election Commission should work expeditiously to hire a permanent director and fill critical staffing vacancies
Both Commissions should use any available state and federal funding to cover critical pandemic-election day training, preparation, administrative, equipment and on-site safety costs
Commissions should identify and expand polling places network
Commissions should collaborate with county libraries and other county facilities to serve as statewide election day polling places; offer paid volunteer opportunities for county staffers to train and serve as poll workers
We’ve got to get this right in Richland County because now, more than ever, our voices matter and our votes must count.