South Carolina audit finds errors in 2010 vote

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — A League of Women Voters review, like an earlier State Election Commission audit, has found human errors in last year’s South Carolina elections and that could lead lawmakers to tighten elections procedures statewide.

The errors were not big enough to change the outcome of elections. But the results of the audits were being reviewed by a Senate subcommittee looking at elections.

State Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, the subcommittee chairman, said the state has only limited control over county elections boards and that could be addressed by lawmakers.

“It’s just figuring out what exactly to do,” said Campsen, who expects any changes will receive bipartisan support. “We just need to make sure we get it right.”

One thing the Legislature might do is lengthen the time between Election Day and when counties certify election results, giving them extra time to audit their data.

Campsen said that errors with vote counts were uncovered after elections were certified. “Once an election is certified, it can’t be undone,” he said.

Barbara Zia, co-president of South Carolina’s League of Women Voters, said audits are important.

“We’re calling on the state and the state Legislature to ensure election integrity by enabling state and local election officials to conduct a vote audit after each election, she said.

University of South Carolina computer science professor Duncan Buell, who helped with the League audit, said it found significant problems in eight counties trying to determine if votes were correct.

He said Williamsburg, Orangeburg and Lancaster counties had no electronic data available, while Oconee and Horry counties were unable to produce usable audit files. In Richland County, more than 1,000 votes in two precincts didn’t get counted.

Colleton certified incorrect totals because of human error, and Charleston County was unable to account for 35,000 votes in the audit.

“We have a serious problem in having an election where we can go back and get results and be sure we have the right answers,” Buell said.

The State Election Commission earlier performed its own audit and found similar problems, although none would change the outcome of a vote, said commission spokesman Chris Whitmire. But he added “they are concerning, and we’ve taken a number of steps to improve the process.”

The commission has developed software to allow counties to conduct their own audits before they certify results. The state will also the results before certification.

He said the state will provide counties a system to track every part of the voting process, including storage on voting machines.


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