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With new machines, a smooth election


Guest columnist   The State   26 November 2004


South Carolina made election history, again, on Nov. 2, when near-record numbers of registered voters went to the polls to elect leaders at the national, state and local levels.

In doing so, South Carolina became one of the first states in the nation to fully implement the initial phase of the federal Help America Vote Act, establishing a national benchmark by which other states implementation of the act will be measured.

This year, 15 South Carolina counties replaced punch cards, optical scanners and other older voting equipment with electronic touch-screen voting machines. In 2005, our remaining 31 counties will begin replacing their voting systems with the electronic touch-screen equipment, and by 2006, South Carolina will have a uniform voting system statewide. Again, South Carolina is leading the nation in developing voter registration and elections systems that enhance the usability, security and integrity of our electoral process.

Security of the voting process has always been a primary focus of the State Election Commission, and enhancing security was one of the key considerations in ing our new voting equipment. The new touch-screen voting machines are designed to provide one of the most secure, reliable voting systems available, and particularly to prevent the loss or miscount of any votes.

We are very pleased to report that during the Nov. 2 elections, the new electronic touch-screen equipment performed without error, continuing our proud record of safe, secure and accurate elections. In fact, since 1986, when South Carolina first began using electronic voting machines, not a single vote has been lost as a result of an equipment malfunction.

Implementing the new voting system and electronic touch-screen voting machines in the 15 counties required an enormous amount of teamwork and effort between many people and organizations.

Key to this was the role of county and local election officials and about 14,000 poll workers ? the people who actually run the polls. Backed by the voting machine vendor and an intense, 15-county public education effort that included a touring ?SC Votes? bus and hundreds of live voting machine demonstrations, this amazing network of dedicated people had just 90 days to get the equipment in place and tested, and even less time to teach people how to use the new equipment. Creativity, teamwork and perseverance prevailed, and South Carolina conducted a smooth and tremendously successful election this year.

To be sure, there were minor problems, the worst of which was long lines at some polling places, but none of these problems or inconveniences undermined the election process in any way. In fact, the long lines, which were evident in many states, demonstrate that more American citizens than ever are exercising their right to vote and have their voice heard. We believe that?s a good thing.

In response, county election commissions in South Carolina, which are constantly trying to balance the needs of voters with real budget constraints, will be purchasing additional voting machines to ensure that they meet or exceed the legal requirement to have at least one voting machine available for every 250 registered voters.

Another option to make voting easier and more efficient is to have South Carolina pass legislation allowing early voting, enabling registered voters to cast ballots during a specified time period immediately prior to Election Day. All ballots, including those cast early, would then be counted on election night.

Early voting could also, in part, replace absentee voting (which requires a person to declare a reason for why he wishes to cast a ballot prior to the election) and enhance the efficiency of the overall electoral process. Early voting has been very successful in other states, and we see no reason that it could not be just as successful here in South Carolina. We encourage the Legislature to give this voting reform option serious consideration.

Voting is the quintessential American way for citizens to participate in our political system and make their voices heard. All South Carolinians should be proud of their participation in the 2004 general election.

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