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After Difficult 2012, Richland County Hopes to Spend Problems Into Submission

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[Image courtesy of activerain]

Few communities had a more difficult 2012 election than Richland County, SC where Election Day saw some of the nation's longest lines, due in part to a shortage of poll workers and functioning machines. The problems cost the county's election director her job, and now her replacement is outlining plans to improve election performance beginning in 2013.

The short version: Spend. A lot.

WIS-TV has the details:

The budget estimates are in and in Columbia, Richland County officials estimate this November's election could cost the city as much as $191,269. That includes the possibility of a run-off.

As of April, the city had only budgeted around $120,000 for the fall election.

"Obviously these numbers are a result of what happened at the last major election when we had some pretty serious issues," said City Council Member Cameron Runyan. "And so we have got to protect the integrity of the election process."

New county election director Howard Jackson ... said the plan includes opening more precincts for the city this year, which means a need for more working machines and poll workers. Jackson admitted in an earlier interview that didn't happen in November.

"The county doesn't .... statutorily have enough voting machines to conduct elections," said Jackson.

According to the county's records, they plan to have 436 more workers this November with 71 precincts open versus the 54 from November, that's splitting some of the precincts that were combined, not adding new locations.

"There are a lot of additional resources being thrown into this election to make sure that we don't even come close to what happened last time we had an election," said Runyan.

For the city, the change from April to November, a high profile Mayoral election, and the bond referendum for the library, have many saying no matter what the cost, they want to see it done right.

"If the electorate does not have confidence in the process then the whole democratic system doesn't work," said Runyan. "You have to have confidence that the vote is going to be there and it's going to be there in a way that has integrity."

If the estimates are right, your right to stand in line election day may be the city's most expensive ever. The 2010 Mayoral election with the run-off cost the city a little over $89,000.

There are signs, however, that this new approach isn't yet part of a larger re-think of the county's election process, as opposed to a reaction to last year's problems:

In [private attorney] Steve Hamm's recommendations [details] after the November election, he said he county election office should come up with a comprehensive plan for conducting elections before November. WIS asked where that plan stood today. Jackson told us they're working to come up with a standard operating procedure, a working document, that's not yet been put down on paper, despite this estimate and plan for more workers.

Richland County has already been through - and spent - a lot on its troubled elections. Here's hoping this latest plan is a down payment (albeit an expensive one) on a more-smoothly functioning Election Day.

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