Possible suit against election group on hold
By Tommy Howard, staff writer
April 09, 2004
Georgetown County will probably wait until the end of the month before deciding whether it will file a lawsuit against the State Election Commission over the purchase of new voting machines. If it decides to take legal action at least one other county has indicated a willingness to join the suit.
At issue is state reimbursement for half of the $500,000 Georgetown County spent in 2002 to purchase Unilect Patriot electronic voting machines.
There will be a meeting of the State Election Commission on April 29 in Columbia to discuss the state’s plan to purchase different voting machines for each of the state’s 46 counties. Edwards said the county will have a representative at the meeting.
Herb Bailey, chairman of the local Board of Voter Registration and Elections, said Thursday that Lancaster County has agreed to join the county if a lawsuit is filed and will share the cost.
“The Newberry County Election Commission said since their machines are four or five years old, they were going to stay with the state plan,” Bailey continued, “but their individual opinions were that we were doing the right thing.”
The machines purchased by Georgetown County in 2002 were used in the primary election and in the general election that year and performed flawlessly, Bailey said.
The late Jim Hendrix, who was executive director of the State Election Commission in 2002, told Georgetown County officials that he would try to secure a 50 percent reimbursement for the county when state funds became available.
That didn’t happen before his death later that year.
His successor, Marci Andino, said the State Election Commission does not have the money that Georgetown County officials say they were promised, although a $36 million federal grant will pay for thousands of new machines made by another company.
The state is expected to announce an intent to award the bid today to one of the six firms seeking the contract —Maximus, Diebold, Election Systems and Software (E.S. and S), Palmetto Unilect, Parsons and Microvote — according to Wanda Dixon of the Information Technology Division of the State Budget and Control Board.
Bailey told County Council last week that Andino was a long-time employee of Unisys. He said that Unisys partnered with Diebold on its proposal. He said he wasn’t making any charges, but Council could draw its own conclusions.
Andino told the Times that she worked for Unisys for more than two years but said there is nothing in the state procurement code that would prohibit either Unisys or Diebold from submitting a bid.
County Attorney Jack Scoville said Georgetown County wants to be exempt from the state plan and continue using its machines.
“They work fine and we’ve had no problems with them,” he said. “We are asking that we be given the money that would otherwise be spent on buying us new machines, so we can use that to reimburse us for the money we already spent on our machines. That’s what we were promised by the State Election Commission.”
County Administrator Tommy Edwards said he’s taking the position that, “We would not file a lawsuit at this time unless specifically directed to do so by County Council. Instead, we’re sending a letter to the governor’s office stating our position, with a copy to the State Election Commission.”
Several other counties also plan to attend the meeting at the end of this month, Edwards said, and have also contacted Gov. Mark Sanford’s office.
“Depending on the outcome of all this, County Council may direct me to take further action,” he said.
The Lancaster County Administrator told Edwards his county would be willing to participate with Georgetown, but he added that he doesn’t expect any county to bring legal action before the meeting on April 29.
Dixon said of the six vendors, three made presentations on their proposals — Diebold, E.S. and S. and Parsons.
She said several protests have already been made by companies involved in the bidding, during the procurement process.
“Once we make an award,” Dixon said, “if a company has standing, then they can make a protest.”