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Results are in: McCain wins
By Mike Cherney and Aliana Ramos - The Sun News   22 January 2008

It took almost two days, but Horry County results for the Republican presidential primary were released around noon Monday.

The final tally mirrored the rest of the state. Arizona Sen. John McCain carried Horry County with 8,406 votes, followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with 7,265 votes and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who received 4,764 votes. Nearly 26,000 voters cast ballots, about a 20 percent turnout.

Florence County experienced the same problem with retrieving results at the end of voting as Horry County at the end of polling on Saturday night.

But Florence County was able to release its full results by 2 a.m. Sunday, seven hours after voting ended, said Mike Young, the director of elections and registration for the county. It took Horry County 36 hours.

In both counties, the voting machines were incorrectly set to close on Jan. 26, the date of the Democratic presidential primary, instead of Jan. 19, the date the Republican primary was held.

The data used to set the closing times for the machines is distributed by the S.C. State Election Commission, who has taken responsibility for the error.

"We can program our own election if we want to," Young said. "I don't have the time to do it, so we usually ask the state."

Two state election commission employees were on hand Monday to help Horry County election workers test the machines that will be used Saturday for the Democratic primary.

"It's definitely something we don't want to repeat," said Chris Whitmire, a spokesman with the state's election commission. "Especially when all the eyes of the world, and most certainly the nation, are on us."

In both counties after the GOP primary, poll workers transported the machines from the precincts to the central elections office. Florence County used about 170 machines in the primary; Horry County used about 300.

Poll workers are not trained to manually override the set closing date. In both counties, technicians at the central offices had to close the machines. Young said it takes five to 10 minutes to manually close each machine.

In Horry County, some of the machines were unmarked, so workers spent hours trying to match the machines to the right precincts. In Florence County, Young said the machines were physically separated by precinct as they came in, which accelerated the counting.

Earlier during Saturday's GOP race, an estimated 80 percent of Horry County's voting machines locked up because county technicians failed to reset and clear out data after the machines were tested.

Polling locations quickly ran out of paper ballots, and poll workers turned people away, told them to come back later or resorted to using scrap paper.

In some cases when machines locked up, poll workers declined to use other machines that were available, assuming they were also not working, said Sandy Martin, director of elections and voter registration in Horry County.

Debbie Johnson, the chairwoman of the Horry County Election Commission, could not be reached for comment Monday.

The iVotronic machines, manufactured by Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software, were first used in Horry County in June 2006.

In that election, about 25 to 30 touch-screen voting machines in 12 precincts locked up, had dead batteries or were improperly shut down. In November 2006, some polling places also reported problems with some machines.

Whitmire said he did not think the problem with the incorrect closing time affected any other counties in the state.

He said no one had lodged a verbal or written complaint regarding Horry County's election with the state commission.

Martin said she has received some negative attention since the Republican primary, but said she also received a lot of support.

The process will be looked at in-depth after Saturday's Democratic primary, Martin said Monday.

"We're going to go back and look it over and add some things, maybe do some things in more detail," she said. "Right now, we're just trying to get everything straightened out."

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