County may get control of elections

  • Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 7:37 a.m.

Local S.C. House members have taken legislative action to put the Election Office under the supervision of Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian and County Council members instead of the delegation.

District 84 Rep. Roland Smith, the Aiken County Legislative Delegation chairman, and the four other House members of the delegation introduced the bill transferring control last month. It passed the House unanimously in late January and is now being considered by the Senate.

“The legislation simply puts the responsibility for the Election Office into the hands of county government,” Smith said. “This expands home rule. It should have been under home rule all along, and we have put it under home rule.”

More voting machines and better-trained staff were two of the recommendations presented to the delegation during the Monday night delegation meetings, whose members are striving to address concerns raised last November from voters who experienced long wait times and problematic machines.

Those suggestions plus more laptop computers for precinct workers would improve the situation, Kay McIver told the delegation. She headed a committee of three Election Commissioners appointed by Smith to look into the problems.

McIver, who is the chairman of the Aiken County Registration and Election Commission, told the delegation that her committee’s recommendations include purchasing 20 new voting machines. The machines cost approximately $1,900 apiece when they have been refurbished and would cost about $4,200 each if they were new. However, no new machines are in production at this time, she said.

Aiken County owns 422 voting machines. Based on the number of registered voters in the county (102,000), 408 machines are required by state law, McIver said. The law requires one machine for every 250 registered voters.

However, based on the number of precincts in Aiken County, 434 machines would be needed to satisfy the law. Twenty-seven precincts need to be split because they exceed 1,500 registered voters, according to McIver.

McIver said her committee incorporated some recommendations from the South Carolina Election Commission into its report. The delegation had a full report from the state election commission at its Monday meeting, as well. However, McIver said she and her committee had not seen the entire report when they prepared their recommendations.

“I think this is a very good template,” said District 86 Rep. Bill Taylor of the committee’s report to the delegation. “There will always be problems. It’s the very nature of a complex project. The goal is to critique it well every time and see if we can make it better, much better.”

While District 24 Sen. Shane Massey also praised the committee for its work, he encouraged the elections office to work harder to improve its ability to deal with the public.

“I was looking for some indication (in the committee’s report) as to where were mistakes made, who made the mistakes and what we’ve got to do in order to fix this,” he said. “(District 24 Sen.) Tom Young and I received several complaints about staff in the (election) office – not Ms. Holland specifically, but staff that worked for her. That is an issue that is going to have to be addressed, whether it’s more training or whatever it is. I don’t want anybody to lose their job, but folks have got to understand they can’t treat people the way they’ve done in the past.”

Cynthia Holland is the executive director of Aiken County Registration and Elections.

Moving control of the Election Office to the county government was the correct move, Smith said.

The legislative delegation’s House members took the action because “we thought it was the right thing to do,” Smith said. “We don’t have the time to do the supervision that some of us feel is necessary for that office to operate and respond to the public in a timely manner.”

The voting problems in November were factors in the decision to introduce the legislation, Smith said.

The committee’s other recommendations included the following:

• Rent or purchase more laptop computers. The Elections Office currently owns 37.

• Provide laptop training for each precinct clerk and at least one other worker in each precinct.

• Move the absentee precinct out of the main office and have it run by well-trained poll managers.

• Have a sufficient number of personnel to handle calls and answer questions from precinct clerks on Election Day.

• Improve efficiency in the Election Office by making courses available on time management and dealing with difficult people.

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