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South Carolina Election Reformers Schedule State House Rally

The debate over the integrity of the ballot box in the Palmetto State rolls on …

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Touting the need for “free, safe elections” that are “secure, transparent and verifiable,” a group of South Carolina state lawmakers is planning to gather early next month in support of stronger election integrity laws in the Palmetto State.

Their objective? A voting system in which ballots are cast on paper – and counted by hand – on the day of the election.

State senator Tom Corbin of Greenville, S.C. – along with state representatives Rob Harris of Wellford and Mike Burns of Taylors – have scheduled a press conference for the first day of the 2024 session of the S.C. General Assembly (Tuesday, January 9, 2024). The trio will meet on the south steps of the S.C. State House in downtown Columbia, S.C. They will be joined at the press conference by election reform advocates including Laura Scharr, founder and team leader of the group S.C. Safe Elections.

“The people of our state as well as across our country have lost confidence in our electronic voting systems,” Scharr’s group noted in a statement announcing the upcoming event. “Over half of Americans believe there will be cheating in the 2024 election. They want a transparent, accurate method of voting they can feel confident about. No system should be tolerated if the public doesn’t trust it. We have lost local control of our elections and we need to return that control to the local level.”

Wait … local control? Last time I checked, that’s where the problems lie in South Carolina when it comes to election integrity. Local control is not the issue, in my estimation. If anything, I believe all local election commissions should be made political subdivisions of the state – accountable to a chief election officer who reports directly to the governor. In addition to creating a clear line of accountability, such a structure would eliminate flaws in the current system – which consists of powerful local legislators appointing the officials who oversee their races.

(Sound familiar?)

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This structural misstep notwithstanding, Scharr and her allies raise some good points … albeit not always diplomatically.

According to the group, “the inherent risks of computerized or electronic systems are numerous” and the potential for “fraud and maladministration is very real.”

“We saw too many issues in 2020 as well as 2022 nationwide as well as in our state,” the statement noted. “Our systems are lacking due to poor chain of custody, poor security, and a lack of training — and this becomes worse with early voting.  Our current ‘black box’ system counts our ballots in secret even though our state constitution (Article II Section 1) mandates that we count ballots in public. There is no way we can see the counting being conducted inside the machines.”

That’s true, but in fairness – as I noted in the fall – there has been “zero evidence of rigged elections in the Palmetto State.”

The group’s proposed solution to potential election interference?

“The best path to secure elections is to move to in-person voting, one-day voting using hand-marked, hand-counted paper ballots,” the release noted.

Supporters of S.C. Safe Elections have also demanded the hand counting be conducted in public – and be recorded.

Are they correct in pushing these proposed requirements?

My media outlet has weighed in on the issue of elections frequently over the years – not always sound the correct note, either. For example, I was an early opponent of voter identification laws – which I have since come to realize are absolutely indispensable to the administration fair elections.

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(Getty)

In addition to the structural reforms outlined earlier, I believe South Carolina’s voting process must be fundamentally reworked so that our modern technologies have a documentable backstop. To be clear: I am not saying we should get rid of the machines – nor am I saying the machines are being manipulated en masse to rig races. Last time I checked, none of the 59Fifty fitted hats I like to wear are lined with tin foil. But I am saying the machine count should work within a system that collects and preserves a permanent record of voting – a record based on significantly strengthened ballot requirements.

I also believe early voting can – and in some cases, should – be a part of that system.

In May of 2020 – seven months before the contested fall election – I addressed the issue of mail-in voting extensively, arguing that it could actually wind up being more secure than in-person voting (especially if it created a definitive “paper trail” of ballots requested and cast).

Should it replace voting on election day? No.

Specifically, I argued only those who specifically asked for an absentee ballot should be sent one – with narrow windows for receipt and return. Also, submission of a valid photo identification must always be part of the application process – along with a signed, sworn oath or affirmation acknowledging criminal culpability for any misuse or fraud.

“No valid ID, no ballot,” I wrote back in October. “No signed oath, no ballot. Period.

Recreating these steps on election day shouldn’t be hard.

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RELATED | ELECTION REFORMERS SOUND A SOUR NOTE

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Every ballot cast on a voting machine in South Carolina should create two hard copies – one for the voter to take home with them (should they choose to do so) and a second for them to sign and hand to poll workers prior to leaving the voting booth. This second copy would create a permanent, “verifiable” record of their choices – with their signature affixed to it.

Oh, and signing this hard copy would be required by law – if you want your vote to count.

Were there any issues with the machine count – including any alleged irregularities – election officials would be able to consult the signed, hard copies of all ballots in their possession. Such a system would render many of the current bills proposed by reformers – including H. 3162 – unnecessary. It would also require the sort of uniform (i.e. statewide) administration and streamlined accountability discussed earlier.

Such a “verified vote” method could certainly create potential challenges for those seeking to preserve the anonymity of the ballot box, but those challenges can be addressed by enacting statewide standards for the collection and preservation of ballot copies – and criminal penalties for anyone who violates those standards.

Certainly a “verified vote” method would be infinitely preferable to the current “ballot reconciliation” sham – another indictment of South Carolina’s inconsistently administered, locally driven election system.

Nothing is more fundamental to the integrity of our representative democracy than ensuring free, fair, transparent and trustworthy elections. Ensuring the sanctity of the ballot box is a definitional core function of government – one which leaders in the Palmetto State should start taking much more seriously. Fortunately, our state is lucky to have an elections director who is up to meeting these challenges – assuming lawmakers entrust him with the requisite authority. Howie Knapp and his team at the S.C. Election Commission (SCVotes.gov) are more than capable of managing every election within the Palmetto State’s borders – just as state lawmakers ought to be capable of creating an accountable structure and credible system for them to implement.

Fixing both is essential to fostering restored public faith in election integrity …

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.

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6 comments

Fixed it for ya December 26, 2023 at 1:47 pm

“Touting the need for “free, safe elections” that are “secure, transparent and verifiable..”

Translation: Republican lawmakers are attempting more voting suppression and are lying about their motives. (Imagine that?)

If Republicans were serious about fixing their made up problem with voting (that somehow keeps producing Republican super-majorities in SC) they would follow Colorado’s system of voting. All Mail-In ballots, with the option to vote in-person on Election Day. If you mail in or drop off your ballot, you can go to a website and see that your vote has been counted.

Somehow these days, republicans ALWAY restricting voting. Is it because they can’t win a popular election to save their lives? Yes. That’s it exactly.

Reply
Heather Hickman December 27, 2023 at 12:04 pm

Absolutely we need transparency! How is a ballot counted now? IS a ballot counted now? How could we verify a ballot is “counted”, when a posted result could be… an estimate? (In fact, it IS an estimate – that is why the law calls for an Audit.

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Todd L Grosh December 27, 2023 at 4:53 pm

Every vote should count. Massive evidence has been shown to prove elections can and have been manipulated across the US. The machines have been proven to contain modems on board. Our SC canvas reveal, the reveal that only a couple SC lawmakers took time to show up to showed proof of election problems in SC. There are many ways to manipulate the elections and the fact that We The People are refused access to the election machines or a full audit shows there is something to hide. If not then cooperate and show us all the information that has been requested. One day in person paper ballot voting with extenuating circumstances for mail in voting. No ID no vote!!

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Dawn Beck February 10, 2024 at 5:57 pm

I agree completely with you Todd. Paper ballots, hand count and one day voting. Make it a national holiday. There was no problem figuring out the winner before midnight in the 70’s.

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Nancy Warner December 27, 2023 at 5:02 pm

In the last election, Pennsylvania’s ES&S machines reversed the vote on a Yes/No question. The barcode was printed as a “yes” while the text on the ballot that is fed into the tabulator read “no”. The director explained ““What you read and what the computer reads are two different things. The computer does not read the text that is printed out” This situation alone should prove that there is insufficient controls on our election systems. The barcode could just as easily be printed with the incorrect value while the text leads us to believe our vote is going to be read correctly by the tabulator. Our votes should be as protected as our dollars. Our SEC has nowhere near the Information Technology manpower or experience that is essential in banking. Therefore, the risk of mistakes, fraud, and/or hacking is VERY real. In addition, we are not following our SC Constitution which states that our votes should not be counted in secret.

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Heather Hickman December 27, 2023 at 8:49 pm

Wow. Whoa. We are told repeatedly that we HAVE proof of our vote by reading the ballot before we insert it into the tabulator. This means we have NOTING. No proof, not even a vote! PAPER is the way to fix this. PEOPLE don’t read barcode! We don’t need our votes translated into a foreign language! Paper please! English results!

Reply

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