Originally created 11/03/04

Glitches thwart some S.C. voters

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Technical glitches with voting machines and disputes over poll watching caused delays and frustrated some voters at precincts across South Carolina.

Dozens of voters, many students, were turned away momentarily from a precinct at Benedict College after poll watchers affiliated with the Republican Party contested the legality of their vote.

Mildred Eadie, an 18-year-old student from Willingboro, N.J., had her vote challenged by a poll watcher because she had no state identification and only a college ID. Eadie was able to stand in line to vote after the dispute was settled.

"I felt that my vote wasn't going to count because I didn't know what challenge meant," Eadie said.

Other students left crying, said David Swinton, college president. Swinton said the challenges slowed voting at the precinct causing waits as long as four hours. Some students left, unable to wait, poll workers said.

Democratic leaders charged Republican Party poll watchers with targeting the precinct at the historically black college to discourage young blacks from voting.

"This is the worst case of voter intimidation, I've ever seen in South Carolina," said Wyeth Ruthven, spokesman for the Democratic Party's Victory 2004 campaign.

Republican Party executive director Luke Byars said poll workers were simply making sure that election laws were being followed. Byars said workers often challenged people who did not have proper state identification, such as a driver's license.

"Our poll watchers were doing their job," Byars said. "This is a problem statewide where people go to the polls and don't have any ID."

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said that alternate forms of identification permit students to vote provisional ballots, or those that can later be challenged. Clyburn said the watchers were disenfranchising voters.

"That's the intent of it," said Clyburn, who was at the precinct Tuesday. "They're trying to slow the process."

Precincts across the state reported other problems.

Voters at two of 137 precincts in Greenville County had to use paper ballots after workers had problems setting up touch-screen machines, State Election Commission officials said.

About 65 voters at a precinct in Mauldin used paper ballots while technicians from Electronic Systems & Software got the iVotronic machines working properly, officials said. The machines were up and running by 8:30 a.m. - 90 minutes after polls opened, said poll worker Rebecca Wood.

"It wasn't a problem with the machines themselves," Meghan McCormick, a spokeswoman for Electronic Systems & Software, said.

Wood said some voters left in frustration. "Some people had to leave, but the attitudes were wonderful," she said. "I know they were frustrated."

Poll workers marked the paper ballots with the word "emergency" to create a paper trail, Wood said.

Greenville County is one of 15 in South Carolina using electronic voting machines.

Along the coast, Georgetown County also experienced some glitches with the machines.

Voters in four precincts had to switch to paper ballots during the first hour while officials sorted out problems with the devices. They were up and running within 90 minutes, said Herb Bailey, chairman of the county commission.

The South Carolina Progressive Network said Tuesday night that its voter hot line had registered 350 complaints, many from counties that had new electronic voting machines.

The organization, a coalition of groups ranging from the AFL-CIO to the Legislative Black Caucus, has pushed for electronic voting machines that provide a voter-verifiable paper receipt.

The Voter Protection Hotline received at least 160 calls Tuesday, said Ludovic Blain, associate director of the Democracy Program for Demos. Most of the calls involved registration complaints, problems with machines or voter identification, Blain said.

Victory 2004 for the Democratic Party said its hotline fielded complaints about voters at a Beaufort County precinct not being allowed to vote a straight Democratic ticket. The party filed a complaint with the county.

Republican Party officials said voters in Dillon County reported problems voting straight Republican tickets.


Associated Press writers Bruce Smith in Mount Pleasant and Susanne Schafer, Amy Geier Edgar and Jacob Jordan in Columbia contributed to this report.


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