An independent audit of the state’s election results from last November shows thousands of votes were not counted properly, and thousands more can no longer be accounted for. The League of Women Voters, which sponsored the review, said the problems were not enough to affect the results. However, the audit showed severe problems in how many counties were counting their ballots.
University of South Carolina computer science professor Duncan Buell examined vote totals from last November, but could not get all of the numbers because six different counties could not provide their entire electronic vote records.
Buell said, without that data, it’s impossible to know if the counties’ numbers are accurate. “If the audit data isn’t there, all we have is the trust that the totaling (of all the ballots)… went correctly,” Buell said, “What we have found in a number of instances is that it doesn’t go correctly.”
In Orangeburg County, local elections officials said they lost all of their electronic voting data after their computer system crashed. Williamsburg and Lancaster counties also could not produce electronic totals. Meanwhile, files from Horry and Oconee counties were unusable by auditors. Charleston County could not account for an additional 35,000 ballots.
Buell said Williamsburg and Lancaster elections officials did not properly configure their ballots. As a result, they could not be tabulated by the state’s voting software. Other counties ran into a different problem in how the machine’s votes were collected. The machines are supposed to be opened and closed with one device that records how people voted on it. In some precincts, that device failed and a second was used instead. However, Buell said the second device was not always turned in.
“Citizens need to be confident that their vote is going to be a) counted and b) counted accurately,” League of Women Voters co-president Barbara Zia said, “What the vote audit results show is that this didn’t happen in all cases.”
The results largely match an earlier audit by the State Elections Commission.
The commission says it will now require each county to audit their results. That would mean checking every action taken by each voting machine, rather than tabulating the final numbers from the machines at the end of the day. The idea is that auditors could catch any mistakes poll workers may have made when they entered the data into the state’s election software.
While the commission is making the changes, it is also asking the state Legislature for help. Spokesman Chris Whitmire said lawmakers would probably need to move back the date of certification (when the results become “official”) to give counties enough time to do the audits.
Since the commission first learned about the 2010 problems in February– after the results were already certified, it was not allowed to change the final numbers.