COLUMBIA — A Republican who lost a bid to unseat a Richland County councilman called for a new election Monday, accusing county elections officials of intentionally not putting out enough voting machines on Election Day.
Michael Letts said at a news conference Monday that thousands of voters abandoned hourslong lines because there were not enough machines.
Letts lost to County Councilman Jim Manning, 37 percent to 63 percent, but said he was also worried about a county sales tax vote. By a margin of more than 9,000 votes, Richland County voted to increase sales tax by a penny, a decision that supporters have said will mean a $1 billion windfall for the area.
Letts, who opposed the increase, said fewer voting machines were sent to areas that had voted against the measure when it was first put to voters in 2010.
“A law was broken, deliberately, before the polls were ever opened,” Letts said.
According to a law originally passed in 1962 and updated several times since, the county agency that runs that area’s elections should provide at least one machine for each 250 registered voters in that precinct.
Officials have said they sent out less than 800 machines for the county’s 244,721 registered voters, which averages to about one machine per 305 voters. The county left more than 100 machines behind in case they needed to be dispatched because of problems.
County officials have not explained why so many machines went unused. State Republican Chairman Chad Connelly has said the party plans to form a task force to see what happened.
Issues related to this year’s elections are pending in court. A circuit judge granted state Democrats’ request to recount all votes in Richland County, including a disputed Columbia House race. Republicans have asked the
state Supreme Court to throw out the request.
Acknowledging that he is still waiting on more information from officials, Letts said county prosecutors should also investigate the problems.
He was joined by several current members of the county council, one of whom won her race and would have to fight for re-election anew if Letts’ request for a new election were granted. But Val Hutchinson said that, having waited in voting lines for hours herself, she’s willing to take that risk after talking to voters so frustrated that they wanted to move.
“They felt betrayed during the process,” Hutchinson said. “You cannot imagine how miserable it was. ... There was more than disorganization. It felt intentional.”