It’s Election Day 2019! I’m sure there are all sorts of interesting elections happening all over the country, but for me, the big election is right in my backyard, in little Lamar, South Carolina (which just got a website!).
Lamar is holding elections for two at-large Town Council seats. There are two incumbents and two challengers, and the election is non-partisan (for what it’s worth, I cast my two votes for the challengers, in the Jacksonian spirit of rotation in office).
I like to vote early (though not often—that’s a federal crime, and since I’m not a Democrat or an illegal alien, I’d get in trouble for doing so), because I never know if I’ll be home by the time polls close. Polling in South Carolina always runs from 7 AM to 7 PM, which is a pretty substantial window. So, I was there right at 7 AM, and was the fifth person from my precinct to cast a ballot.
What was really surprising were the new voting machines, about which I have mixed feelings.
For years, South Carolina has used electronic voting. The machines compile all the ballots for a precinct at the close of voting, and prints out a huge receipt with the results. Those receipts are posted on the door of the precinct after the polls close.
A fun side story: when I was still involved with the Florence, South Carolina Republican Party, one of my Election Night jobs was to drive around to precincts, taking pictures of these huge receipts and texting them back to headquarters. It was our way of getting faster results than waiting for the local media to report (I imagine they were doing the same thing).
One year, I was tasked with hitting some of the rural precincts in the northern part of Florence County. With the time change, it is pitch-black by the time the polls close, so it’s always dicey getting the results; I always felt a tad dodgy rushing up to elementary schools in the dark.
Anyway, one of the precincts voted at a local park. As I approached the receipt, a recorded voice loudly proclaimed, “You are trespassing; the park is closed. If you do not leave the premises, local law enforcement will be contacted. Your picture has been taken.” Even though I was a mere five feet from the results, the stentorian recording was enough to spook me, so the results went unrecorded.
But I digress. The State of South Carolina has now switched over to new, two-factor voting machines ahead of the 2020 elections. I cast my ballot using one of these machines this morning.
Voters are handed a long strip of paper, which a poll worker feeds into the voting machine. You then make your selections, and, once your picks are confirmed, the machine returns your ballot with your selections printed.
The process isn’t over at that point, though. You then take your printed ballot to another poll worker, who feeds the ballot face-down into another machine. That machine officially records the vote; it does not count if it is not fed into this second machine. At that point, the paper ballot goes… somewhere—into the belly of the machine, I suppose.
I am healthily paranoid about the potential for election fraud. I think the idea of these ballots is to decrease the likelihood of such an outcome—your ballot is printed clearly with your results, and you watch it get fed into the machine that confirms the ballot is cast.
That said, there were several warning signs for me. For one, there was precious little privacy at the voting machine I used, which was had candidates in HUGE print (for the visually-impaired, I’m sure). With poll workers hovering about, it made me a bit self-conscious.
Then, you have to hand your printed ballot to another poll worker to feed it into the machine. Technically you can do this yourself—and I did—but it’s not immediately obvious where exactly to do the feeding, and I was concerned about the poll worker seeing my ballot.
It doesn’t matter, necessarily, if a poll worker sees the ballot, but how can I be sure there’s not some tampering or suppression at play? It’s an open secret that many poll watchers and poll workers are Democrats. I have it on anecdotal, but solid, authority that it is very difficult for self-identifying Republicans to get poll watcher training (though not impossible). Remember, The Swamp exists locally, too; even in the “Solid South,” Democrats dominate local elections, largely due to demographics, but also because they control the institutions.
The SC Election Commission is pushing the printed ballot as providing peace of mind for voters: they clearly see for whom they voted. But it seems like they could accomplish that without the two-factor process: just print out my results as a ballot receipt, so I get that confirmation I, the voter, crave. I still don’t know, for sure, if my vote counts, because I have to feed the receipt into another machine.
The other issue I observed this morning: it’s so easy for the poll workers to get something wrong. I arrived right at 7 AM, when polls opened, and there were already a few people in line. A lady in front of me got held up, however, for over five minutes, as the elderly, near-sighted poll worker (from what I could gather) accidentally was looking at absentee voting information for this woman. I still don’t know the issue, but it completely stopped the voting process for those of us in line while this ancient—and, I’m sure, very sweet—woman tried to figure out where she mis-clicked.
One way that conservatives can ensure fair, efficient elections is to volunteer to work the polls. Indeed, the FCGOP was really pushing members to do just that during the 2018 elections. It’s the only way we can make sure every vote is counted.
After the surprise recount win of Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema in 2018—and the other shady recount efforts in Georgia and Florida—which yielded mystery ballots for the Democrats, I do not trust that the 2020 election will be 100% fair at all. Look for the Democrats to pull out every dirty trick in the book—turning away Republicans, screwing up the voter rolls, reviving the dead to vote, finding “lost” ballots—to prevent President Trump’s reelection, and the elections of Republicans to Congress.
It’s hard for Republicans—many of whom work and are productive members of society—to take a day off to watch an election. I’m guilty of not following my own advice. But it’s crucial.
Learn more at SCVotes.org.