SC election upgrades for voter check-in process won’t be ready for June primaries

Updated: May. 28, 2020 at 5:31 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - When the South Carolina Election Commission upgraded to a paper-based statewide voting system in 2019, not all of the necessary components were funded by the SC General Assembly.

Late last year, election officials reported the state’s current electronic poll book solution is not compatible with the new statewide voting system because of its age and inadequate software capabilities.

State election officials said upgraded electronic poll books were needed to improve efficiency and accuracy in the voting process.

The state’s e-poll book system hasn’t been updated since 2006, and some polling places are still using paper books.

The technology is used to look up voters at polling places, determine which ballot a voter should receive, and to record their participation in the election.

“It cuts out the mistake of maybe marking out the wrong voter on a paper list. It helps improve that, and the big thing that new e-poll books do is that they integrate with the voting system so that when you check in to vote, the poll book will identify the voters’ ballot style and print it on the ballot card that the voter then goes to put into the ballot marking device. It helps ensure the voter gets the correct ballot style with all the offices they’re supposed to vote,” Director of Public Information Chris Whitmire said.

The state election commission is currently accepting bids for the project, and officials said the true cost of the upgrade won’t be known until the process is complete.

However, the commission’s 2020-2021 budget plan stated at least $5 million would be required to provide electronic poll books for all counties in South Carolina.

If funds are not received, counties would be forced to continue using our antiquated electronic poll book system or paper voter registration lists, the lines at polling places on election day could be longer, and providing voter history could be delayed and the possibility of voters receiving the wrong ballot style could continue, according to the agency’s budget plan.

Election officials said new e-poll books won’t be ready for June’s primaries, instead they are hoping to have them in place by November.

“Not only will poll managers be able to process voters faster, electronic poll books will ensure voters receive the correct ballot style reducing the likelihood an election could be overturned. In addition, fully eliminating paper voter registration lists at polling places will allow voter history on the statewide voter registration system to be updated and made available to the public faster in order to meet the demands of our customers,” the agency’s budget plan stated.

The current paper-based system replaced the state’s aging paperless system that had been in place since 2004.

Election officials said it would provide voters with a dependable system for years to come and greatly enhance the security and resilience of the state’s election process.

“Paper ballots will allow election officials to audit paper ballots to verify results. This is a significant measure that will go a long way in providing voters and election officials the assurance that every vote is counted just as the voter intended,” the commission’s 2018-2019 accountability report stated.

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