Richland County Elections Board chairwoman: ‘I am not confident’ in voting machine security

The first meeting of the new Richland County Elections and Voter Registration Board on Tuesday included confusion over rules and a dispute over the security of the county’s voting machines.

The Richland County Elections and Voter Registration Board at Tuesday's meeting: (L-R) vice chair Adell Adams, chair Marjorie Johnson, Sylvia Holley, Pete Kennedy, Jane Dreher Emerson, and  Interim Elections Director Samuel Selph (photo by Allen Wallace).

The Richland County Elections and Voter Registration Board at Tuesday’s meeting: vice chair Adell Adams (from left to right), chairwoman Marjorie Johnson, Sylvia Holley, Pete Kennedy, Jane Dreher Emerson, and Interim Elections Director Samuel Selph (photo by Allen Wallace)

The meeting opened with state Sen. John Scott swearing in the board’s four new members, appointed by legislators after a recent shake-up. The board then elected new member Marjorie Johnson as chairwoman in a 4-0 vote with the other nominee, Pete Kennedy, abstaining.

The board’s lone veteran, Adell Adams, was elected vice chairwoman in a 3-2 vote after a motion by Jane Dreher Emerson to postpone that vote was defeated. Johnson initially abstained in the vote for a vice chairperson, and confusion ensued over whether the chairwoman should always vote or if she should vote only when needed to break a tie.

Adams said the chairwoman always voted and was not allowed to abstain. When Johnson questioned this, Adams said, “We have five votes. We always vote.” Johnson then voted for Adams as vice chairwoman, breaking the tie. The board did not consult any rules or bylaws concerning the powers of the chairwoman.

Interim Elections Director Samuel Selph reported to the board on preparations for the Nov. 4 general election.

“I consider my office really ready,” he said. But he immediately followed that statement saying, “On Election Day, you will have start-up problems early in the morning.”

Johnson questioned Selph about the security of voting machines, expressing dissatisfaction with the current storage location. Selph said he was in discussions with the county administrator to find a better place.

“I need the time shortened. We need it now. We need it for the public’s confidence, and I am not confident,” Johnson said.

State Rep. Kirkman Finlay, who attended the meeting, rose during the time allotted for public comment and asked Selph about security for the voting machines between Oct. 21 (when they are delivered to polling places) and the election.

“They’re under lock and key,” Selph responded, but was immediately contradicted by Emerson.

“I know from experience the machines are not under lock and key,” Emerson said. “When my son was at A.C. Moore [Elementary School, a polling place], the machines were right there in the gym with balls bouncing off them.”

Selph had no reply to that, and at that moment Johnson adjourned the meeting without a motion or vote, saying that the board had to vacate the room because another meeting was scheduled. “We’re being put out,” she said.

Before the voting machine discussion, Johnson and Sylvia Holley complained about public meeting laws that require that the public be notified any time enough board members gather to constitute a quorum.

“I am a little dismayed that we can’t have social time together to do a group hug,” Johnson said.

“We are unable to get to know each other,” Holley said. “We are thrown into this cold turkey.”

Holley also expressed concern over the lack of public attendance at the meeting. Fewer than 10 people were on hand aside from board members, and most of those were members of the media, elected officials or county employees required to be present.

“Something has to be done to get the public interested,” Holley said. “Maybe we can find some initiatives for people who come.”

A vote to approve board bylaws discussed during an organizational meeting was delayed after Adams said she did not have a chance to read the bylaws because her email was down. Holley, who said she did have working email, said she had not had a chance “to look over the information in the packets.” When Kennedy told her that information had been sent a week in advance by email, she shook her head and murmured “Internet.”

Holley and Adams asked to have a hard copy of the bylaws provided for them at the next meeting. A vote to postpone approving the bylaws failed, but the approval vote was never taken. After some discussion of the bylaws, Adams interrupted to say, “We need to see about the elections.”

“Ms. Adams, you’re the one slowing the meeting down,” Kennedy replied. After that, Johnson dropped the bylaw discussion without motion or vote.

Confusion also ensued when the board reached the agenda item that called for approving the minutes of a July 28th meeting at which none of the new members were present. Adams, the only current member who attended that meeting, moved to approve the minutes. Asked if the motion needed a second, Johnson said, “I wouldn’t know whether I should [ask for a second] or not.”

Johnson eventually declared without a vote, “We accept the July 28th minutes.”

Holley also spoke at length about getting more people to register to vote, though the registration deadline for the Nov. 4 election already had passed.

“I think there are some people up in the mountains who need transportation, who can’t come down,” she said. “I think we need to find other ways to bring them out of the hills or wherever they are.”

Holley went on to say that she thought many young people do not vote because they think their votes do not count.

“These teenagers with their pants pulled down and all of that, we need to do more educating,” she said.

“That is a problem we’re not going to solve,” Johnson said.

Categories: Elections, Politics, Richland County