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THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES

Election 2012: Candidates aren’t the only ones spending more

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Jim Jerow, president of the Georgetown County Republican Party, thanked members of the county Board of Voter Registration and Elections last week for all their work during a difficult year.

Board members learned later in their meeting just how difficult the year has been. It is $42,000 over-budget for part-time help.

Candidates disqualified by failure to properly file a statement of economic interest got back into the races as petition candidates. They had to gather thousands of registered voters’ signatures in order to get on the Nov. 6 ballot. All of those signatures had to be verified.

The board hired part-time help to get the work done on time.

Donna Mahn, the elections director, said the agency has spent $66,170 on part-time help so far this year — with only $23,888 in its budget.

She told board members that she would ask Scott Proctor, the county finance director, for advice or go to County Council to ask for an amended budget.

“The biggest problem,” said board member Billy Altman, “is that we are running a $42,000 deficit on part-time work and we still have part-time workers here. We are getting deeper in the hole. We may not have part-time help between now and July 31.”

Chairman Dean Smith and Mahn said the agency’s two part-time employees were necessary to operate the office. In addition, full-time employees have vacation days coming after working a long stretch between the primaries and the election.

Security is also a concern.

“It’s not safe with just one person here,” Mahn added.

Illustrating that point, board members had just discussed the theft of two laptop computers from the office. New security procedures have been put in place with certain areas of the building off-limits to those without a passkey. Doors on the ends of the building will be configured as exit-only.

Security cameras that were promised when the building was remodeled have yet to be installed.

“It was a snatch and go,” Smith said. “We wouldn’t have had an issue if our security cameras had been in place. They are working on it.”

The commission also discussed the state Board of Elections overturning its decision to order a new election in the Georgetown County School Board District 6 race between Richard Kerr and Peggy Wheeler-Cribb.

Board member Bill Thompson, who was in Columbia for training on the day of the appeal, sat in on the hearing. He said the state commission found insufficient evidence to overturn the result. Kerr won by 22 votes. Thompson said Wheeler-Cribb would have had to call 22 witnesses who said they were denied a chance to vote for her.

“Our takeaway,” Thompson said, “may be that a protester has to prove that it was more than a possibility that I might have won. They have to say, ‘I’ve got these people who would have voted for me.’ ”

Smith, Altman and Butts will form a committee to investigate the cause of the ballot mix-up in Murrells Inlet Precinct 2 and report in January so it doesn’t happen again.

“Ultimately,” said Mahn, “it comes down to me missing these voters. I’ve got to admit that I’m not perfect. We had 23 events in one year: redistricting, petitions, elections. All I can say is that I have procedures in place.”

The board members discussed other problems and solutions:

• A number of laptops were programmed for the wrong precincts. Barcodes will be put on every laptop to assure it goes to the same precinct every time.

• Voters at Waccamaw High School went to the wrong door because voting booths were moved following construction. Larger signs will be used at some precincts.

• Some voters stood in line for a long time before they learned they were at the wrong precinct. Workers will be asked to go outside and check registration cards to make sure voters are at the right place.

• Long delays in getting answers by phone were commonplace. Mahn said other counties have solved this problem by using emergency management facilities on election day.

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