COLUMBIA — A Republican who lost a bid to unseat a Richland County councilman called for a new election, accusing county elections officials of intentionally not putting out enough voting machines on Election Day.
Michael Letts said during a news conference Monday that thousands of voters to abandoned hours-long lines because there were not enough machines.
Letts lost to County Councilman Jim Manning 37 percent to 63 percent, but he said he was also worried about a county sales tax vote. By a margin of more than 9,000 votes, Richland County opted to increase sales tax by a penny, a decision supporters have said will mean a $1 billion windfall for the area.
Letts – who opposed the increase – said that fewer voting machines were sent out to areas that had voted against the measure when it was originally put to voters in 2010.
“A law was broken, deliberately, before the polls were ever opened,” Letts said, referring to a state law that governs the management of South Carolina elections.
According to the law originally passed in 1962 and updated several times since, the county agency that runs that area’s elections should provide at least one voting machine for each 250 registered voters in that precinct.
Local officials have said they sent out less than 800 machines for Richland County’s 244,721 registered voters, which averages to about one machine per 305 voters. The county left more than 100 machines behind in case they needed to be dispatched because of problems.
Richland County officials have not explained why so many machines went unused. State Republican Chairman Chad Connelly has said the GOP plans to form a task force to see what happened.
Issues related to this year’s elections are pending in court. A circuit judge granted state Democrats’ request to recount all votes in Richland County, including a disputed Columbia House race, but Republicans have asked the state Supreme Court to throw out the request.
Legislators from the Columbia area had planned to question county election officials about the Election Day problems on Tuesday, but the meeting was postponed pending the legal action.
Acknowledging that he is still waiting on more information from county election officials, Letts said county prosecutors should also investigate the problems, which he said deprived many citizens of exercising their right to vote.
“At what cost does freedom get taken away from us?” Letts said, noting that Richland County was allocated $1.2 million to administer last week’s voting and that a new election would cost even more money. “There is no cost factor.”
Letts was also joined by several current members of County Council, one of whom won her race and would have to fight for re-election anew if Letts’ request for a new election were granted. But Val Hutchinson said that, having waited in voting lines for hours herself, she’s willing to take that risk after talking to fellow voters so frustrated over the issues they wanted to move.
“They felt betrayed during the process,” Hutchinson said. “You cannot imagine how miserable it was. ... There was more than disorganization. It felt intentional.”