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In this election season amid concerns of hacked election data and possibly “rigged” elections, an examination of the South Carolina elections system should give us assurance in the integrity of our elections. Although our system is not without flaws, it benefits from good organization and non-partisan dedicated officials.
Non-partisan election officials. County and state elections officials are forbidden from taking part in or appearing to be involved in partisan political activity. This required separation of election officials from partisan activity is an essential protection of the system from improper manipulation. Serious irregularities have been associated with voting supervision by partisan elected officials.
Distributed Control. Each of the 46 counties operates a separate election. Votes are collected in the precincts and reported to the county office, where the votes from the precincts are collected before totals are reported to the State Elections Commission (SEC). The totals are collected by the SEC and posted by county to the state website, www.scvotes.org.
Transparency. When votes are collected in the precinct, two copies of the results are printed. After checking that the total number of votes recorded matches the number of voters who signed in, a copy of the results is posted on the precinct door and the other copy taken to the county election office. (The Personal Electronic Ballots (PEBs and memory cards from the voting machines are also returned to the county office.) Individuals can copy (or photograph) the totals from the posting on the precinct door.
At each stage of vote collection, individuals are able to check that the recorded vote is correctly entered into the totals. A spreadsheet, detailxls.zip, linked from “Reports” in the county data in scvotes.org, lists all votes by precinct.
Thus, it is possible to trace the totals from each precinct, to the county totals and then to the state totals.
Verification that all votes are collected from voting machines. Previous elections have been flawed by failure of poll workers to collect all the votes from the machines. That problem has been addressed and SEC now runs post-election audits that verify that all votes cast on the voting machines are reported to the county totaling process. These post-election audits are posted at scvotes.org.
Local involvement. An extensive system of small precincts, including experienced poll workers who are acquainted with most of the voters in their neighborhood, provide an effective deterrent to voter impersonation.
Although the South Carolina voting system is not without flaws, understanding the strengths of the system should give voters confidence. The non-partisanship of our election officials, together with precinct voting, post-election audits of data and posting of election data provide safeguards against fraudulent attack.