Judge orders Richland Co. ballots seized in disputed race

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP/WIS) - A judge has ordered that votes in a contested South Carolina legislative race be guarded by state police until a hearing can be held on alleged voting irregularities in Richland County.

Circuit Judge Casey Manning on Thursday signed the request from the South Carolina Democratic Party.

In the court order, Manning has asked Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott to seize all Richland County voting machines, ballots, and counting machinery and turn them over to the State Law Enforcement Division for safekeeping until the hearing.

Democrats want a recount of the House District 75 race. A cascade of Election Day problems delayed the county's unofficial results until late Wednesday. Long lines of voters, too few voting machines, and broken counting scanners delayed counts.

Richland County's preliminary tally shows Republican Kirkman Finlay as the race's unofficial winner with 6771 votes over Democrat Joe McCulloch with 6506 results -- a deficit of 265 votes.

One such issue brought up in the Democrats' petition against the Election Commission claims that in one group of absentee votes, 267 votes went to Finlay while McCulloch received none.

County officials have not explained how the problems occurred. Election officials deferred comment to Richland County's legislative delegation, who did not comment on the request.

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