On Thursday, Attorney Steve Hamm issued a preliminary report to the Richland County Election Commission as to the cause of lengthy lines in last month’s vote.
Though brief at 16 pages, the report depicts the Office of Elections and Voter Registration led by Director Lillian McBride as one found wanting in planning and communication.
NOTE: The report is attached to this article.
In his investigation, Hamm found that the problems dated back to the summer as preparations for the general election were getting started. In his remarks prior to releasing the report, Hamm said that under McBride’s leadership, election preparations “hit an iceberg” and didn’t realize it until Election Day.
Page 5 of the report contains perhaps the most damning criticism of McBride. It says in part, that the red numbers on a spreadsheet used to allocate machines:
“reflect the absence of a coordinated election preparation and procedure plan. This (sic) is no record of on-going and regular Director and reviews of voting machines allocations in the months and weeks leading up to the General Election despite the fact that the voter registrations for Richland County were continuing to increase right up to the day of the Election.”
Hamm goes on to say that it was “unfortunate” that the distribution of the number of voting machines was left to a part-time election staff worker.
That same worker—who was not identified—is believed by Hamm to be the person who wrote the incorrect numbers on to the spreadsheet.
In an email communication with his boss in July 3, the worker notes that McBride:
“gave me a revised list of the machines needed for the Nov. 6 election. She got the number down to 605 machines…”
Hamm could not determine that any request was made by McBride for 605 machines, verbally or otherwise. Furthermore, the election worker who sent the email had been in communication with The Elections Office Precinct Coordinator who gave him a spreadsheet that asked for 864 machines. The worker does not appear to have shared the spreadsheet with McBride nor did she ask for it.
Hamm cautioned observers not to make too much of the erroneous spreadsheet, but was critical of McBride for not having a system of check and balances in place that would have caught such an error.
Hamm told the media after the presentation of the report that he spoke to previous Elections Director Mike Cinnamon and Cinnamon confirmed that there was not a written checklist or set of guidelines in place for election preparation during the three decades-plus that he led the Elections Office.
Hamm was also critical of the group that hired him, the Election Commission, for not maintaining more oversight of the election process, especially since McBride was leading her first countywide general election.
As a result of increased voter registration, Hamm determined that 980 machines were needed by the County to meet the law requiring one machine per 250 registered voters. According to Hamm, the County owns only 958 machines. Due to the lack of planning and communication, only 577 were deployed on Election Day. During the course of Election Day, as it became apparent there were shortages, approximately 50 machines were delivered to various precincts throughout the County.
Working with Prof. Duncan Buell, Hamm discovered that due to various malfunctions that cannot solely be attributed to faulty batteries—as was stated by McBride when she appeared before the Legislative Delegation—less than 500 working machines were actually in use on Nov. 6.
In his report, Hamm notes that more than a month after the election, hundreds of votes may still be uncounted. A voting machine in Lincolnshire did not count 27 votes, a machine in Spring Valley West did not count 102 and a machine in Sandlapper might not have worked at all on Election Day.
At a regularly scheduled meeting of the Legislative Delegation earlier on Thursday, , imagined a scenario where they thought she could remain in her position.
In his report Hamm said he does not believe a new election is warranted, as some have called for, based on his opinion of state law and Supreme Court.
Before releasing his report, Hamm emphasized both the independence of his investigation and the importance of it. “For the sake of our democracy people have to know that their vote counts in this election we did not meet the standard required of democracy.”
Hamm urged for transparency on his full report is complete in an effort to “regain the public trust.”