South Carolina election officials will recount all votes cast in Richland County, after a judge issued a restraining order against the county’s election commission. Circuit Judge Casey Manning ordered the State Law Enforcement Division to take control of the ballots for safekeeping Thursday. The South Carolina Election Commission will now recount the votes from all races in the county, with one representative from each party and the Richland County Election Commission observing.
Both Republican and Democratic leaders have called for an investigation into long wait times and malfunctioning machines at many precincts in the county. Some voters reported waiting over five hours to cast their ballots due to a shortage of machines. The last polling locations closed around 2 a.m. Wednesday, according to Columbia TV station WIS.
Republican Kirkman Finlay III won the House District 75 seat held by retiring state Rep. Jim Harrison (R-Columbia), according to the unofficial result reported Wednesday night. However, his Democratic opponent Joe McCulloch questioned the county’s handling of the election and how some absentee ballots were counted. The Richland County Election Commission would have met to certify the vote on Friday.
Democrat Joe McCulloch had held a 46-vote lead before absentee ballots were counted. But Finlay dominated the absentee votes and was given an unofficial 265-vote advantage in the final tally.
On Thursday, the South Carolina Democratic Party filed the complaint against the Richland County Election Commission and the executive director of the county’s Board of Elections Lillian McBride. The suit claims Richland County elections officials did not follow South Carolina law requiring one machine per every 250 voters in a precinct. The complaint also claims that some precincts did not properly “close out” their vote totals, meaning the machines’ votes are all combined on a single cartridge. That cartridge is then used to create a printout of that precinct’s results.
Democrats said they were also concerned about a category of absentee ballots that tallied 267 votes for Finlay and none for McCulloch. The complaint says election officials did not have any explanation for how that was possible.
Meanwhile, local legislators that represent Richland County said they will demand answers from the Election Commission (the county’s delegation appoints the commission).
“It was just an eclectic mix-up,” State Sen. John Courson (R-Columbia) said, “We’re going to get it resolved very quickly. That should never, ever happen again.” Courson himself did not learn he had successfully won re-election until after midnight Wednesday.
Finlay owns several restaurants in the Columbia area. McCulloch is an attorney in the city.
—- Meanwhile, state Rep. Patsy Knight (D-St. George) was able to hang on to her seat after a strong challenge from Republican real estate appraiser Ed Carter. Results were delayed after one precinct in the Delemars area had trouble reading the results from one of its machines. Dorchester County Board of Elections & Voter Registration executive director Joshua Dickard said the county was not able to read the final results until Wednesday afternoon.
Knight was able to win 55 percent of the vote to Carter’s 45 percent. That was about a 1,600-vote difference in the part-suburban, part-rural district.
—- Republicans were able to pick up a state House of Representative seat in Abbeville County. Craig Gagnon, a chiropractor, received 50 percent of ballots in his favor after Democrats split their vote between Calhoun Falls mayor Lee Garrett and Democratic petition candidate Bob Shirley. He replaces Rep. Paul Agney (D-Abbeville), who did not seek re-election this year.