Plan to buy voting machines faces heat
Group asks attorney general to step in, says devices violate law by not leaving paper trail of votes
By LEE BANDY
S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster was asked Tuesday to halt the State Election Commission’s plan to buy new touch-screen voting machines.
Meanwhile, the State Law Enforcement Division confirmed it is investigating the commission’s original plan to buy new machines from Election Systems Software.
At a press conference outside the commission’s offices, S.C. Progressive Network members said the planned purchase of new voting machines violates federal law because the machines do not provide a paper trail of ballots, allowing a recount.
“The problems that the commission is having with the purchase of a statewide, unified voting system underscore our concern that every vote count,” said state Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland, vice chairman of the Progressive Network.
The network wants McMaster to sue to halt the process, Neal said.
Leaders of the group met privately with McMaster afterward. “Henry told them he would issue an opinion on the matter and would consider their request for injunctive relief,” said Trey Walker, McMaster’s spokesman.
The commission originally awarded a $32 million contract to Election Systems Software for computerized voting machines. That award was thrown out after a state official ruled the bidding did not comply with procedures. Bidding has been reopened.
Acting on complaints filed by other bidders, SLED confirmed Tuesday it is investigating possible conflicts of interest in awarding the contract to Election Systems. A SLED spokeswoman declined to provide details.
Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems did nothing wrong, spokeswoman Ellen Bogard said, adding the company has submitted a new bid.
The Election Commission is considering bids of about $30 million to buy new voting machines. It says machines that produce a paper trail for each ballot cast cost too much.
The state plans to pay for the machines using $48 million it expects to get as part of the federal government’s effort to improve U.S. voting systems. Congress approved the money after problems with Florida punch-card machines during the 2000 presidential election.
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires that any voting system used in a federal election produce a paper record of each ballot cast. Specifically, it states, “The voting system shall produce a permanent paper record with a manual audit capacity for such system.”
More than 2,500 signatures from South Carolinians calling for a voter system that produces a paper trail were presented at Tuesday’s press conference.
“There is an unseemly rush by the State Election Commission to buy a high-tech voting system that will not allow the intention of individual voters to be recounted,” said John Crangle, director of Common Cause of South Carolina. “The two most important aspects of voting are accuracy and verifiability. The systems the commission intends to buy provide neither.”
Said Progressive Network director Brett Bursey, “We believe the state is about to violate the federal Help America Vote Act, and the attorney general needs to step in and ensure that we have a fail-safe method to make every vote count.”
The state stands to lose $2 million in federal money if it fails to replace punch-card voting machines in 11 counties, including Lexington and Kershaw.