The Richland County Election Commission denied a protest for a new election by a vote of 3-0.
After its finding the Commission Vice-Chair Allen Dowby said,” Our vote does not mean we are pleased with the way the election was run. This does not mean we are reacting to the results of the vote on the Penny Tax.”
Former County Council Candidate Michael Letts has been seeking a new election on several grounds, but most notably due to the fact that the County did not comply with the state statute calling for one voting machine for every 250 registered voters.
Letts was faced with a steep burden. He had to prove that the number of voters who did not vote because of long lines would have made a difference in the outcome. To that end, he noted that on the Nov. 6 election Richland County had the second lowest turnout percentage in the state, when in 2008 and 2010 its turnout was above the state average.
Letts also called several members of the Elections and Voter Registration Office to testify under oath, including Executive Director Lillian McBride.
McBride told Letts, who is not an attorney, that she realized that the statute was not followed. She also said she did not receive communication from any poll workers prior to Election Day notifying her of a shortage of machines.
Two of McBride’s colleagues in the Elections Office, Rebecca Brown and Cheryl Goodwin said that they did hear from poll workers regarding a shortage of machines. Goodwin said she heard from one, Brown said she heard from several.
Goodwin was also questioned about preparations leading up to Election Day. She said that approximately 30 machines were held in abeyance in the event of shortages and were distributed throughout the County on Election Day.
Gary Baum, the Assistant Director of Elections and Voter Registration, also testified. Baum said he was not called on or before Election Day and advised of shortages of machines. In addition, he said, to his knowledge, there was no system in place in the Elections Office to log or track complaints.
Letts also called Frank McBride and Heywood Bannister to testify and attempted to show that they influenced the outcome of the Penny Tax vote through relationships with Lillian McBride and Sen. Darrell Jackson (D-21). Bannister said he was the campaign manager for the Penny Tax initiative but said he had no present relationship with Jackson. Bannister and Jackson formed the public relations firm Sunrise Communications numerous years ago. Bannister’s current business address and phone number are the same as Sunrise’s. Frank McBride denied any relationship to Lillian McBride.
The attorneys for the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority (CMRTA) John Moylan and the attorney for the County, Helen McFadden, both objected to any questions that were not related to the statute requiring one machine per 250 registered voters. They were all sustained.
Moylan said after the hearing he was confident that the Commission would find in his clients favor. “Unfortunately there is no guarantee of a perfect election,” Moylan said. “The Supreme Court is very clear in that regard and in this case there was no evidence of people voting illegally or people being denied the right to vote.”
Moylan referenced a case in Spartanburg County where officials knowingly violated the one machine per 250 registered voters statute and the election was still upheld.
Following the hearing, Letts said he was neither surprised nor discouraged by the outcome and that he plans to appeal up to the State Supreme Court, if necessary.
“What happened was exactly what we anticipated. What’s important here is that it was admitted that laws were broken,” he said. “The Supreme Court has shown sympathy for willful disregard of election law and we believe we showed today that’s what happened.”
Letts must file a protest with the State Election Commission by next Monday. Should it uphold the County’s ruling, Letts would have the option of putting the matter before the State Supreme Court.
Protests to the results of County Council Seats 7 and 8 were also denied.