Richland County, S.C. election officials are either incredibly incompetent … or incredibly corrupt.

Either way, their actions may have helped usher in a new sales tax hike as malfunctioning voting machines at numerous Republican-leaning precincts forced wait times of several hours for individuals wishing to cast their ballots.

Many of these citizens left without voting … which conspiracy theorists say was the point.

“A lot of people in the (demographic) that would seem to vote down the tax were essentially turned away by the mismanagement of the election,” says a working mother from Dutch Fork, S.C. – one of the areas of Richland County that experienced lengthy delays. “It’s really hard to wait for four hours if you work and have a family. The (measure) failed by 600-some votes last time; if you can turn away a couple hundred voters in Dutch Fork and add some city voters who were motivated to turn out and cast a ballot for Obama, you can probably pass your tax.”

State law mandates one voting machine per every 250 registered voters.  By that count, there should have been at least ten machines in operation at the Dutch Fork precinct.

Instead there were only three … resulting in wait times of more than four hours.

Similar machine shortages and delays were reported at other Republican-heavy precincts in Richland County – causing hundreds of voters to abandon their effort to cast a ballot.

Not only that, FITS was peppered with Election Day reports of penny sales tax supporters – including Columbia, S.C. mayor Steve Benjamin – improperly attempting to influence voters on behalf of the measure.

At last count, the sales tax hike – which is expected to suck $1.2 billion out of the local economy over the next 22 years – had received 64,190 votes compared to 55,452 votes in opposition (that’s with 84 percent of precincts reporting).  In addition to the alleged voter suppression techniques, more than $50,000 in public funds was spent in the weeks leading up the election to “educate” voters on the benefits of the tax hike.

Amazing, isn’t it?

Responding to the allegations of corruption, S.C. Election Commission (SCEC) director Marci Andino tells FITS that the county election commission will conduct “a review of voting machine allocation” once all of the ballots have been tabulated.  Andino added that her agency stands ready to assist those efforts if called upon to do so.

UPDATE: By a final vote count of 74,029 to 64,684, the Richland County tax hike passed.