County elections director announces 25 new precincts, major poll worker recruitment campaign

Richland County’s Elections and Voter Registration Director Howard Jackson informed members of the department’s oversight commission that his team is on track to ensuring this year’s elections run smoothly.

The Richland County Elections and Voter Registration Commission met to discuss improvements to voter registration and poll access. Photo by Kelly Petty.

The Richland County Elections and Voter Registration Commission met to discuss improvements to voter registration and poll access. (photo by Kelly Petty)

The county will add 25 new precincts, Jackson said, which means nearly 200 to 300 additional poll workers are needed to cover those locations.

A large recruiting campaign is currently underway, and Jackson said he has had meetings with representatives from Fort Jackson and the McEntire Joint National Air Base to expand poll worker opportunities to groups who were not typically pegged for the job in the past.

“We’re reaching out to nontraditional areas that we don’t traditionally seek out for poll workers,” he said.

Commissioner Samuel Selph suggested the county speak to churches to find potential pollsters.

Jackson agreed and said he is planning to speak to the superintendents of both Richland County school districts to give 16-year-old and 17-year-old high school students a chance to earn volunteer credit. He also said he would reach out to local universities to get college students involved.

Individuals interested in becoming a poll worker can access the online application at the county’s website.

For the next major election, the June 10 primaries, a total of 1,700 poll workers will be needed to cover the now 149 precincts in the county.

With the 2012 election still on the minds of residents as well as problems with voters accessing the ballot during the November 2013 election, the Elections and Voter Registration department is going on the offense to instate several initiatives that would improve access and efficiency on Election Day.

Based on a recently released report from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, Jackson and his staff have explored ways to increase voter registration, speed up wait times and ensure all votes are counted.

“We currently don’t have enough able bodies to man the precincts we have,” he told the Commission.

Selph said he noticed at one precinct in the last election that 10 poll workers were scheduled to work, but only six showed up. Jackson said the federal report suggested county workers run the polls to fill gaps.

To shore up wait times, Jackson said his department will continue to offer satellite locations for early voters. He also met with EZ-Vote, an online registration and polling software company. EZ-Vote offers an application that would allow groups like the League of Women Voters to register to people to vote without having to sign a paper application. The county then could access and process voter information digitally, eliminating the need to manually file paper applications. Voters subsequently would receive a text, email or phone call informing them of their application status.

Pollsters would continue to have at least two laptops to sign in voters at precincts and three for larger polling locations, Jackson said.

Jackson said all of the initiatives would be in place for the June primaries.

“And then hopefully we will have an uneventful November,” he said.

Selph said he wants to be sure that voters will have a better voting experience this year.

“No one should have to wait one half hour to vote,” he said.

Other issues the commission discussed included:

  • Blythewood’s elections for two vacant council seats is scheduled for March 11. Jackson said his department decided to open only one precinct for the election with about three to five ballot machines.
  • The commission noted that the Blythewood election falls at the same time as the annual South Carolina Association of Registration and Election Officials conference. Commission Chairman Allen Dowdy said he would stay behind, though the other members will decide if they do a conference call to verify the election results.
  • County residents who will be affected by the 25 new precincts will receive new voter registration cards along with a note explaining how they are affected by March 15.
  • Jackson said the American Party, a new political party founded by former state Education Superintendent Jim Rex and family physician Oscar Lovelace, recently was certified. Jackson said he had not received any verification that the party would be on the June primary ballot alongside the Republican and Democrat parties.

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