COLUMBIA — An audit of the state Elections Commission shows it would cost more than $17 million to retrofit South Carolina’s existing electronic voting machines to produce a paper trail.
Much of the Legislative Audit County report released Wednesday focuses on the system’s inability to produce an auditable paper trail to verify votes.
“They can go back and count what’s on the register, but how do you know if the machine registered the vote correctly because there is no paper trail?” asked Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who requested the audit last year as the Senate president pro tem. “That’s very disturbing.”
McConnell said the state should have bought machines that produced a paper trail.
Executive director Marci Andino said such a system wasn’t available when the machines were bought in 2004.
“Over the past nine years, the system has been used in thousands of elections, and the SEC remains confident in its accuracy and reliability,” Andino wrote in her response to the audit.
Agency officials don’t believe it is cost effective to retrofit the touch-screen machines that should be replaced within a few years. The House budget proposal for 2012-13 includes Andino’s request for $5 million to begin saving for a new system after 2016.
“When the time comes, the system will be replaced with the most advanced voting system available,” Andino said.
The state’s last purchase of 11,450 machines cost $35 million, according to the report. The contract followed the Help America Vote Act of 2002, meant to encourage states to replace punch card and lever voting systems.
The report says an independent audit of the state’s 2010 general election found several anomalies, including the count of certified votes in some precincts being lower than the number of voters, according to sign-in sheets. The auditors did not suspect fraud, but rather poorly written software that didn’t check for errors. The state Election Commission began requiring post-election audits after 2010.
In 2012, 18 states and the District of Columbia used the same machines in at least some counties. Problems reported in other states included short battery life, screen freezing, and reports of too many votes or too few, compared to the numbers voting.
Recommendations in the audit included establishing a toll-free hotline for voters to call during elections to report problems, more training for county election officials, and consider testing officials to ensure they understand election rules and laws.