• Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

SC Elections Committee presents findings on June poll snafu

ByChad J. Johnson

Oct 31, 2022

A review by the SC Elections Committee determined that 3,237 Beaufort County voters were not placed in the correct precincts during the redistricting process, resulting in 70 voters initially receiving the wrong ballots in the primary elections in June. The SEC said it has since corrected those errors.

According to the State Election Commission (SEC) and the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration & Elections, the 70 voters who received the wrong ballots were in 15 precincts: Bluffton 1D, Bluffton 2B, Bluffton 4B, Bluffton 4C, Bluffton 4D , Bluffton 2A. , Bluffton 2E, Hilton Head 1B, Hilton Head 4D, Hilton Head 4B, Hilton Head 2C, Hilton Head 4A, Hilton Head 4C, Hilton Head 5A and Hilton Head 5B.

The SEC found that in those 15 precincts, 2,038 voters had not been properly redistributed, but those voters had not yet received their ballots. According to the review, out of approximately 135,000 voters in the county, 3,237 voters across all precincts were not properly distributed.

The Beaufort County legislative delegation met Oct. 14 to consider the SEC’s findings.

Delegation chairman Rep. Weston J. Newton said the review was to determine “what we need to do to ensure this doesn’t happen again and to assure the citizens of this part of South Carolina that the election was fair, it was appropriate, these errors were addressed in a timely manner, the election was verified and the results were correct.”

The review presented to the delegation detailed the timeline for the county’s redistricting and early voting period. In this timeline, the SEC has provided examples of instances where the county’s voter registration board was notified of errors in the redistricting of county residents.

The review said that on January 24 the county had the final reading of its redistricting plan, and on February 16 it submitted “decoding changes” for the districts of SC House, Beaufort County Council and of the school board.

According to the SEC review, “As decode changes are made, county offices begin to adjust street files to match the decode changes. The ‘street file’ is how the registration system of voters knows which districts are associated with individual addresses.”

After the county submitted these “decoding changes”, the SC Revenue and Fiscal Affairs office provided Beaufort County with an error report on April 6 “with a list of 2,600 possible county council errors (district )”. On April 8, the Beaufort County Voter Registration Board returned a decode form to the SEC, indicating that all voters in Beaufort County had been transferred to the correct districts.

On April 13, the SEC asked all counties to review their data as a final check, “prior to finalizing the voter databases.” On May 26, Will Roberts, who at the time worked for the SC Senate Judiciary Committee, conducted a secondary review of counties across the state and sent an error report to counties that identified “any persistent redistricting errors “. The Beaufort County Elections and Registration Board received an error report indicating 3,200 voters who may be in the wrong county council districts.

A line of voters entered the Bluffton Library polling station in June 2022.

On May 27, the SEC found that “Beaufort County has updated the streets identified in the May 26 error report with the correct district codes.” The review said the SEC had not received confirmation from the county that the “massive redistricting” of voters was over. On June 7, the SEC received confirmation forms from the County Council for Voter Registration and Elections which, “showing that the county’s voter databases were correct, that the county’s ballots had been verified and tested, and all the redrawing was done”.

On June 8, Beaufort County Council candidate Michael Covert “attempted to vote at his polling place and discovered he was not on his own ballot,” according to the SEC review. . Later on June 8, Beaufort County Director of Voter Registration and Elections Marie Smalls contacted the SEC and reported that “a number of voters in Beaufort County” had received the wrong ballot papers.

The SEC worked with Beaufort County to correct this problem by updating the voter registration system and providing affected voters with the correct ballots. The SEC also created a second voter database for voters in affected precincts to ensure they have the correct ballots.

After the election, the SEC conducted a comprehensive review and audit of the election process to identify how these errors occurred. Through this review, the SEC found that the Beaufort County Voter Registration Board “understood that voters were to be re-trimmed at the county board level, but never re-trimmed them or asked the SEC to re-trim voters manually”.

The SEC reported that other counties with fewer resources and less experience have managed to redistrict before the election. The commission also found in its review that the county’s voter registration board had demonstrated an understanding of the redistricting process.

Smalls shared with the legislative delegation on Oct. 14 that when the voter registration board received the error message in May, her team believed they had completed the redistricting. She said she thought all addresses had been updated at the time. Smalls disputed the SEC’s statement that the county had received multiple error reports, and Smalls said she informed the SEC when it became aware of the issue in June.

Following this review, the SEC will seek the hiring of a permanent director who will oversee the redistricting of counties and provide “quality assurance.” Outside of the redistricting years, the manager’s role will be to ensure that voters traveling statewide are in the correct districts.