Editorial: Blunders at ballot box shrink local confidence
It's difficult to force judgement on Tuesday night's exhaustingly late election results without knowing all the details, but what we do know is this is the second time in two election cycles that Aiken County has experienced a ballot box blunder.
The apparent cause of at least some of the confusion resulting in late returns on Tuesday was an issue with a single voting machine.
The glitch appears to have only been found after a technician from the State Election Commission in Columbia came to Aiken on Wednesday afternoon to examine local concerns. Even if it was a legitimately perplexing issue, the problems Tuesday are only amplified by the 2012 elections that were marred by long waiting times and even the wrong ballots provided at some precincts.
Additionally, it's evident there was a lack of communication exhibited by election officials.
Reporters, candidates and campaign supporters were left relying on spotty updates throughout the night, even with races that ultimately were not even competitive.
While it's vital to ensure elections results are calculated fairly, it's also critically important to inform voters and the press why returns are taking longer than expected.
Votes at the ballot box didn't even begin to be tabulated until 9 p.m., two hours after polls closed. Even the counting of absentee ballots, which were trickling in weeks beforehand, had not started until late Tuesday night.
It still remains unclear why local election officials waited so long to begin the vote count process. Cynthia Holland, executive director of Aiken County Registration and Elections, said the delay was at least partially the result of poll workers bringing in results all at the same time, which slowed down their ability to adequately process results. Perhaps this is an issue with the new government building, but that's hard to imagine with the former building's comparably limited parking and outside space.
Poll results were likely being delivered at the same pace in past elections, but more thorough results were available even within an hour after polls closed.
It wasn't until late Tuesday night, or Wednesday morning in some cases, that those following the races were made aware of even the unofficial results of most precincts. Local election officials, however, largely remain vague about the delay.
Aiken County election officials were apparently on the phone with the state's election commission for about two hours Tuesday night trying to diagnose the problem, according to Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the commission.
While an out-of-the-ordinary glitch – one that even state officials couldn't grasp quickly, may have taken place, it's still clear the process was stalled significantly as poll workers were stuck in their cars outside of the government center, waiting to drop off their precinct boxes.
Additionally, Aiken County was the only county in South Carolina not to have reported any results to the state's election commission by Wednesday morning, which shows that even if hiccups occurred in other counties, officials in those areas were still reporting what they could.
The long delay looks even worse with such a lower voter turnout, and with most races locally being between only two candidates.
It also certainly drops confidence in Aiken County's ability to successful pull off an election. That's a troubling reality, particularly with primary runoff elections only two weeks away.