Registration, communication issues cause problems
With heavy voter turnout in every poll and precinct in Dorchester County, occasional glitches and hiccups were expected.
However, a number of voters found themselves having to cast paper provisional ballots – which will have to be certified by the election commission during its certification hearing Friday – because of problems not of their making.
At least seven voters at Alston Middle School alone cast provisional ballots because of issues with their voter registration information being incorrect, out of date, or simply not in the system due to errors and oversights in the process of entering that information into the system.
The biggest offender, thus far, appears to be the SC Dept. of Motor Vehicles, which simply has not forwarded the information to the county voter registration office in a timely manner, according to poll workers. In fact, in the blunt and succinct summation of one precinct manager in reference to voter registration issues with the SC Department of Motor Vehicles: “It’s been a real pain in the butt.”
For some, the situation has been more inconvenient than anything else; voters have arrived at polls they believed to be correct, only to be re-directed to other polling places to cast their ballots – in some cases multiple times.
Max Matthews, who voted at Bethany United Methodist Church, said he checked online to confirm his poll, only to be redirected not once but twice.
“I’ve been doing this, trying to vote, since 7:30 this morning,” he said. It was 9:20 a.m.
His grandfather, John Mellert, experienced similar problems, waiting more than 40 minutes at Cornerstone Baptist Church on Central Avenue only to be redirected to Bethany, where he waited in line another 45 minutes before casting his ballot.
Mellert said he spoke to several other people who dealt with similar experiences that morning.
“I was pretty hot,” Mellert said. “Nobody should have to go through that - - they told no one about these changes.”
But others said they felt their experiences were not only extremely inconvenient, but in some ways almost felt like disenfranchisement.
One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said she and her husband moved to Summerville from Berkeley County some time ago and both changed their voter registration information with the SCDMV office in Ladson. They came to Alston Middle School to vote; his information was in order but hers was not.
To make matters worse, the poll manager she dealt with was not only not helpful, but seemed less than knowledgeable about her job. The manager, having checked her driver’s license against the database and found no information, told the woman there was nothing they could do for her. The woman was leaving the poll when she spoke to a community activist outside, who told her she could, in fact, vote.
“She said I could get a challenge ballot and went inside with me to make the request,” the woman said.
They spoke to other poll workers, who directed her back to the original poll manager, who proceeded to check her identification again and inform her there was no information in the system for her. The woman told the manager she wanted a ballot, as was her right, and eventually was given a paper ballot. However, when she returned a few minutes later, the manager first told her she couldn’t do anything with it because the precinct was out of official ballot envelopes, then asked the woman where she got the ballot. When the woman told the manager she had just given it to her, the manager replied that she shouldn’t have it, that the manager had only given it to her because she insisted.
Eventually, the woman called the Voter Registration Office; as it happened a member of the election commission was there when she called and told her someone would come to the poll to retrieve her ballot.
“I’ve now been here about two and a half hours,” she said. “This is completely unacceptable. And if I hadn’t run into that person outside, I probably would have gone home and not voted at all.”
Election Commission Chairman Rodney Profit did arrive at the scene and apologized for the inconvenience, stating that the commission was committed to ensuring that everyone is able to exercise their right to vote and personally ensuring that her ballot was properly signed and cast. He noted that some additional education and training may be in order for poll workers and said the commission would be addressing this and any other such issues.
But the question remains for her: How many others experienced similar issues and worse, may not have voted because of it?
“I know of at least three people who were dealing with the same situation,” she said. “The poll manager gave no information – if I wasn’t stubborn about it, I might well have not voted. And if I hadn’t run into that woman outside, I would have never known that I could even cast the provisional ballot.”
Another, even more troubling situation occurred for another voter. Susan Kammeraad Campbell arrived at the polls, also with her husband, at Alson Middle School, only to be informed that she had already voted on an absentee ballot.
“I have not voted absentee, however, I know my personal information has been compromised in the recent hacking situation,” she said, referring to the Dept. of Revenue hacking debacle. “I was told that there was nothing they could do for me, and I went home.”
Nonetheless, the idea that she was not allowed to vote, that she was going home stripped of that right, rankled deeply, so much that she called her attorney, she said.
Her attorney informed her that she could, in fact, vote on a provisional ballot, which she did.
As it turned out, Kammeraad-Campbell had been dealing with the same poll manager, who again did not offer any options, other than to suggest reporting any possible identity theft to law enforcement.
“She wasn’t rude, but she certainly wasn’t helpful,” Kammeraad-Campbell said. “I certainly do not have any confidence in whoever is managing this poll when they are not providing the necessary information for people to exercise their right to vote.”
But more important, there may be people not as educated, savvy, or even dedicated to exercising that right.
“I take this very seriously,” she said. “It was a very odd feeling – somebody had seized my right and cast my ballot the way they wanted to and not the way I wanted. People have fought and died for that right – so this sinking feeling that I was being denied this basic right did not sit well at all, so much so that I called my attorney -- then got right back in the car and drove back to the poll.”