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Election chief happy with ballot machines
Of The Post and Courier Staff

COLUMBIAState Election Commission Director Marci Andino is breathing a little easier these days.

The embattled director emerged from the Nov. 2 general election tired, but vindicated, after voting occurred with few problems.

Votes were tabulated. Results were made official. Even the electronic boogeyman of touchscreen voting machines ended up as little more than a campfire tale.

All told, about 1.6 million South Carolinians, about 70 percent of the state's registered voters, went to the polls this year.

Almost 900,000 voters in 15 counties used the state's new Ivotronic touch-screen voting system, a computerized voting machine that caused a world of controversy for Andino.

She was accused of steering a $37 million contract to Election Systems and Software, a Nebraska-based firm that Andino had been loosely connected to years before.

The allegations drew fire from state voter activists, who feared the machines would lead to mass voter fraud and perhaps even a stolen election.

Those fears proved unfounded. Investigations into Andino uncovered no wrongdoing, and the touch-screen machines, with few exceptions, worked perfectly.

Andino's push toward a unified state system seems prescient, given the problems faced in North Carolina this year.

North Carolina has more than a dozen machine varieties. State officials have said they want less variety and more oversight in tracking and tabulating votes.

"I feel very relieved that everything went smoothly here," Andino said. "The 2004 election came under the most scrutiny of any election I can remember. And all of our machines worked well, including the new ones."

This election was under a microscope partly because problems with the 2000 election led directly to passage of the Help America Vote Act, signed by President Bush in 2002. The new law required states to implement interactive, centralized, computerized voting systems by 2004, or 2006 with an extension, and gave states $3.9 billion to make the changes. South Carolina received $48 million.

ES&S won the contract to outfit South Carolina with touch-screen machines in August. The contract led to accusations that Andino had a conflict of interest.

For 2-1/2 years, Andino worked for Unisys, a company specializing in computer system integrations and server technology. In 2002, ES&S and Unisys teamed up in a failed bid for Georgia's statewide voting system. The two companies later formed an alliance to provide statewide voter registration systems nationwide.

A State Law Enforcement Division investigation, called for by several legislators, led nowhere.

Andino said she expected someone to protest the ion of ES&S, but she was surprised by how personal the attacks became. With the election over, she is happy to move forward.

ES&S is expected to begin shipping touch screen machines to the state's other 31 counties in December. Andino said the commission will spend the next two years preparing the rest of the state for touch screen systems and addressing other concerns.

One such concern is early voting. Currently, the only early voting in South Carolina is absentee ballots. Andino said she expects to see legislation this session to address the need for early voting.

"This would help us with some of our long lines," she said.

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