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Officials should check, check again before Nov. 4  (SC)

Beaufort Gazette   24 October 2008

Let's hope Beaufort County elections director Agnes Garvin is right that only a handful of absentee ballots went out without necessary directions for voting in city and town council elections.

Let's hope all is right with electronic voting machines that don't display the names ed in those races where you choose more than one person and that the votes are properly recorded.

Both of those problems came up after election officials had to delay by two days the opening of absentee voting in Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island because of a problem verifying the electronic ballots with state officials.

What's not right is less than adequate preparation for a very important election. As we said two weeks ago, officials should not have waited until a Sunday to try to upload ballot information to the state when they expected to open for voting Monday morning. That work should have been done the week before.

Especially troubling is that printed absentee ballots did not carry the proper instruction on how to vote in races where more than one person can be ed. Election office staff were "slow to proofread," Garvin said Wednesday. Translate that to, "They didn't do it when they should have done it."

Garvin estimated Monday that her office had mailed 79 of these problematic ballots, with 36 going to Beaufort voters, 10 to Bluffton voters, 32 to Hilton Head voters and one to a Fripp Island voter.

But Wednesday, she said only six ballots without the instructions had reached voters in Bluffton and Beaufort. She said her initial figure mistakenly included ballots that in fact had the instructions. After the mistake was discovered, elections staff hand-wrote instructions on ballots.

Feel better? We didn't think so.

We don't expect perfection. But we do expect ballots to be proofread before they're printed in quantity and especially before they're mailed out. Under state law, candidates appearing on the ballot have to be certified by 60 days out from Election Day. That gives officials time to get ballots printed and make sure all is right before voting begins.

We do expect elections office staff to be ready well ahead of the day voting of any sort starts. You don't check 48 iterations of a ballot for 84 precincts on a Sunday when you have told people voting will start Monday morning. Absentee balloting is not a practice run; it's the real deal for thousands of voters.

Garvin has estimated the absentee voting total for this election at 12,000, with the possibility of reaching or exceeding 15,000. She estimated earlier this month that there are 95,500 registered voters in the county. If she's right, we might see 15 percent of registered voters cast absentee ballots. That's no small number.

More importantly, with high voter turnout expected Nov. 4 and with emotions running high on the presidential race, election officials must be as ready as humanly possible.

Forgive us if we're still shuddering a bit as Election Day approaches.

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