Voters surprised by closures

AIKEN --- The Aiken County Registration and Elections Commission voted Monday night to suspend absentee voting in three satellite locations across the county pending further review.

About 30 residents attended the special meeting to voice their anger about a last-minute change of location for absentee voters and to find out why it occurred.

Absentee voting was scheduled to begin Monday morning at Kalmia Mall on Richland Avenue, but Stuart Bedenbaugh, the executive director of the county Voter Registration and Elections office, said that the elections commission decided about 9 p.m. Sunday to move voting to the elections office on Vaucluse Road, with no warning to voters.

"We had a challenge from someone who said we would be outside the law" if the county allowed absentee voting outside the elections office, said Kevin Bumpus, the chairman of the county elections commission.

According to the elections office, a line of about 200 voters, eager to cast their absentee ballots, snaked outside the elections office.

Arlene Childs, of North Augusta, was among them. She had driven to Kalmia Mall, only to be told that the location had been moved to the elections office in Aiken. She said she was not happy about the extra driving.

County Attorney Jim Holly said he spent the weekend reviewing the state statutes on absentee voting and found no mention of changes in location, leading him to assume that it was left out intentionally. "I'm not going to advise this council or any other board to possibly go outside the law," he said.

Residents who attended the meeting urged the commission to hold off on a decision until more information could be obtained from the state.

"If you've made up your mind, I hope you would reconsider," said state Rep. Bill Clyburn. "My concern is over a month we've been told we would have satellite offices."

The county elections commission had already received permission from the State Elections Commission to provide satellite locations for voters with absentee ballots.

The 11th-hour challenge came late Friday night from Columbia attorney Todd Kincannon, who attended Monday's meeting.

Facing an unfriendly crowd who voiced their feelings about someone from outside the county being behind the morning voting confusion, Mr. Kincannon tried to explain why he brought up the issue.

"I do not want to run the risk of disenfranchising anybody's vote," he said.

Mr. Kincannon argued that the state statute on absentee voting says that local election commissions can change the hours and the dates for absentee voting, not the location, opening up the possibility that if someone were to go to court to challenge absentee votes cast in a satellite office the court would throw those votes out.

Mr. Bumpus said the commission will spend the next few days making calls to different agencies in Columbia, "looking for an avenue to get a decision as quick as possible" about satellite locations for absentee voting.

Staff Photographer Annette Drowlette contributed to this story.

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.

AIKEN COUNTY ABSENTEE VOTING

WHERE: Voter Registration and Elections Office, 916 Vaucluse Road, Aiken

WEEKDAY HOURS: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

WEEKEND HOURS: Sunday, 1:30-4:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 25, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 1, 9 a.m. to noon