Richland County, South Carolina’s much-maligned election commission is dealing with yet another problem as the upcoming 2018 midterms approach. And given this particular jurisdiction’s history of, um,”issues” – you will forgive us for expressing a healthy degree of skepticism when it comes to both the origin of the problem and the county’s ability to effectively address it.
As much as we wish it were otherwise, we simply do not trust the integrity of elections in Richland County. Hopefully, our faith will be restored under the leadership of new election administrators, but after the notorious “rigged election” of 2012 we remain less than optimistic.
Six years ago, illegal shortages of voting machines disproportionately targeted precincts which opposed a so-called “penny” tax hike in the previous (2010) election. These illegal shortages led to abnormally long wait times in these precincts and the mass disenfranchisement of anti-tax voters.
The result? Narrow approval of the “penny tax” – a $1.2 billion program which has been rife with graft and corruption.
According to our sources, the latest problem in Richland County stems from “corrupted PEBs” or “personal electronic ballots.” These are devices inserted into voting machines enabling them to activate and collect ballots. When polls close, PEBs are reinserted into the machines to collect the results and transfer them to election headquarters.
Several sources familiar with the situation in Richland County tell us numerous PEBs “have become corrupted as they got old.” Compounding the problem? If a corrupted PEB was inserted into a new machine, that machine also became corrupted.
In other words, this is a “voting machine virus.”
“People from the company that make the voting machines have been here for two weeks trying to ‘fix’ the problem,” our source said.
We reached out to Rokey Suleman, the county’s new election director, in the hopes of gaining some insight into the issue.
Suleman confirmed to us that the county was indeed having “issues regarding voting equipment and the PEBs associated with our absentee machines.”
“When this problem arose, we immediately contacted the vendor and the state election commission,” Suleman told us. “The vendor sent two representatives to our office last week and, throughout this process, we have kept the commission aware of all of our efforts to address this issue.”
Suleman said the problem was quickly identified as a hardware issue, and that steps have been taken to resolve it.
Here is more from an email Suleman provided to this news site …
After testing various scenarios with our staff and representatives from the vendor, we came to the conclusion that we should reprogram all of our PEBs. In an overabundance of caution, we had new PEBs shipped to us and used a different piece of hardware to burn the media. On Monday, in concert with the vendor, we began testing of all of the older PEBs and the new PEBs. An initial run of the old PEBs indicated that the problem was pervasive with the PEBs used by Richland County. We programmed all new media and tested the first 60 PEBs to see if they worked correctly and they did. We then we tested every fifth for several dozen PEBs for quality control and it was positive. We then tested every tenth PEB until programming was complete and did not encounter the issue. The (election commission) was informed of the strategy for addressing this problem and they have expressed satisfaction with this effort.
Suleman said he has a “very high degree of confidence that we have resolved the issue” as well as “an idea as to what the potential root cause of the issue could be.”
“It appears to be a hardware programming issue and to my understanding a similar issue potentially has occurred in (a) jurisdiction outside of South Carolina,” Suleman said.
That is correct. Corrupted PEBs are reportedly an issue in Miami, Florida as well.
State election officials told us they are monitoring the situation and hope to know “for sure” next week what caused the problem.
In the meantime, poll workers have been instructed to “isolate” corrupted PEBs if they see that a machine is malfunctioning.
“We were told to close up the machine and not to use it if it happens and then to notify the technician assigned to our precinct,” one worker told us. “It must be serious if they are telling us this. Usually we’re in the dark and if anything goes wrong, we’re made to feel like it is our fault.”
To his credit, Suleman used the “voting machine virus” issue to make a “plug” for a paper-based voting system in which voters mark an individual paper ballot and then insert it into a tabulator.
“That would mitigate a lot of these machine issues,” he said.
On that count, we concur …
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