NAACP questions election integrity in Georgetown County

Updated: Aug. 19, 2020 at 9:35 PM EDT
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GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - The Georgetown branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is concerned voters in the county will face problems at the polls in November.

Marvin Neal is the president of the local NAACP branch, and argues the upcoming election is the most important election in his lifetime, not just because of the national politics but the local ones as well.

“I have great concerns about what’s happening in Georgetown. We have a senate race in Georgetown. District 32 is a critical race. That will decide the direction of how lives will go based on who wins that election,” Neal said.

On July 23, he sent a letter to the Georgetown County Election Commission listing eight discrepancies found during the primary election in June. They range from long wait times to faulty machinery.

“The great concern is various sites across the district were short on ballots. That’s a form of voter suppression,” Neal said. “In district two, you had candidates missing from some of the ballots.”

Ahead of the primary election, 10 polling locations were moved, and several others were closed because of the coronavirus and/or an inability to staff them.

“We are pushing for more people to be trained. We need more than enough people trained for this election,” Neal says. “There is no excuse why we can’t get people trained because between now and November, people are just sitting there.”

Some of the problems, like fewer poll workers and changed locations, are directly tied to the global pandemic. On average poll workers tend to be retired people, many of whom may not have felt comfortable working during the pandemic. Likewise, many schools chose not to be polling locations because of the virus. Neal argues there was plenty of time to adjust.

“COVID-19 came up on us at the end of February, mid-March,” Neal said. “There should have been some foresight. You should not have a shortage of ballots. You should not have polling sites that were closed when they should have been open. There were opportunities available.”

These are the eight complaints sent to the Georgetown County Election Commission:

  • 1. Ballot shortages at the several polling sites.
  • 2. Voting machines at several locations were not working which created long waiting lines at the polling sites. Several citizens left without voting.
  • 3. Candidates for office were on the wrong ballots in different precincts.
  • 4. Shortage of poll workers at different precincts.
  • 5. Operating two or more precincts out of one location created problems.
  • 6. The Conduct and attitude of office personnel my inappropriate when responding to citizens.
  • 7. Numerous citizens requested absentee ballots doing the proper time frame prior to the election and never received it.
  • 8. On two separate occasions I have visited the election office with two citizens to voice their complaints, upon arrival they were totally disrespected by the office personnel manager Christy Richardson and Billy Altman, the vice chairman of the Election Commission.

Neal reached out to the South Carolina State Election Commission to look at how the elections are being run in Georgetown County. He says they are doing an investigation.

Dean Smith, Chair of the Georgetown Board of Registration and Election, sent a letter back to Neal acknowledging the concerns and explaining some of the issues.

“In June, fears of the COVID virus caused three main problems:  (1) owners of facilities were not willing to host precincts causing polling locations to be consolidated; (2) many experienced poll workers were older and in an “at risk” category and not willing to work; (3) online training was done for most workers rather than the usual in-depth in-person training,” Smith writes.

He says for the general election they are working on getting back into as many of those polling locations as possible and will be conducting training in-person. He also says their problems were similar to issues around the state and says, “The state-wide election community is doing the best it can in these trying times.”

One thing voters can to help, according to Smith, is to vote early.

“We encourage all qualified voters to vote absentee either in person or by mail. This will help protect safety of voters and shorten lines at precincts on Election Day,” Smith said.

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