Vot­ing should be eas­ier than stand­ing in long lines at polling places

The Sun News (Sunday) - - Opinion - By The Myr­tle Beach Sun News Ed­i­to­rial Board

Across Horry County, South Carolina and the United States, vot­ers turned out in sig­nif­i­cantly greater num­bers in last week’s midterm elec­tion than four years ago. About 50 per­cent of Horry County’s reg­is­tered vot­ers ex­er­cised that fun­da­men­tal right and duty on Nov. 6 com­pared to only 39 per­cent in 2014.

While a 50 per­cent turnout is hardly some­thing to crow about, it’s a lot bet­ter than 39 per­cent. Other en­cour­ag­ing points about this year’s elec­tion in­cluded a big in­crease in voter reg­is­tra­tion and high ab­sen­tee vot­ing. Polling places were busy, with long lines, mean­ing that vot­ers in sev­eral precincts waited for an hour or more. U.S. Rep. Tom Rice said one vot­ing place he vis­ited had a two-hour wait.

Vot­ing is a spe­cial thing, no doubt about it, but hav­ing to wait in line for an hour or more is bound to de­ter folks from vot­ing. Some vot­ers avoid long waits by go­ing to vote around 10 a.m., or 3 p.m., avoid­ing early, mid­day and late vot­ing. How­ever, all vot­ers do not have daily sched­ules which al­low that flex­i­bil­ity.

There were ex­pected malfunctions with in­di­vid­ual vot­ing ma­chines, but ap­par­ently no ma­jor county-wide is­sues. The long wait to vote was a prob­lem across South Carolina and the United States, with many re­ports of peo­ple hav­ing to wait hours to vote. We’re pleased they did, but it cer­tainly should be eas­ier than it was for many vot­ers.

Horry County’s rapid pop­u­la­tion growth is a fac­tor in some of the long lines. Sandy Martin, of the Horry County Board of Elec­tions, knows of precincts with high num­bers of reg­is­tered vot­ers, enough to split the precinct, but no suit­able lo­ca­tion in a new precinct for a polling place.

In South Carolina, the vot­ing process — reg­is­tra­tion, reg­u­la­tions, equip­ment to count votes — is han­dled by an in­de­pen­dent, non­par­ti­san State Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. That de­scrip­tion is from Lynn Teague, a vice pres­i­dent of the League of Women Vot­ers of South Carolina. The LWVSC works with a rec­og­nized com­puter engi­neer, Dun- can Buell of the Univer­sity of South Carolina.

“It’s clear that our ex­ist­ing ma­chines need to be re­placed,” Teague said, and the re­place­ments need to be of a sort that gives a pa­per record. Na­tional LWV pol­icy is that vot­ers must be able to see, on pa­per, their votes. Teague said hand-marked bal­lots of some kind are bet­ter and much less costly than elec­tronic (touch­screen) ma­chines. The State Elec­tion Com­mis­sion plans to re­quest pro­pos­als for new ma­chines, al­though the Gen­eral Assem­bly (leg­is­la­ture) has not ap­pro­pri­ated money for a new sys­tem.

Early vot­ing is a way of help­ing re­duce long lines. State Sen. Greg Hem­bree of Lit­tle River has co-spon­sored past leg­is­la­tion set­ting up early vot­ing, and he would again sup­port “some form of early vot­ing.” One pos­si­bil­ity is in-per­son polling places in a few lo­ca­tions, where reg­is­tered vot­ers could vote in ad­vance of an elec­tion. Early vot­ing dif­fers from ab­sen­tee vot­ing, which is lim­ited to 15 types of qual­i­fied vot­ers, in­clud­ing armed forces mem­bers serv­ing out­side the county, per­sons whose work sched­ule will not al­low vot­ing on elec­tion day, phys­i­cally dis­abled per­sons, and those age 65 or older.

Area leg­is­la­tors and Horry County Coun­cil mem­bers, should em­brace the idea that all qual­i­fied res­i­dents should be en­cour­aged to regis­ter to vote and to par­tic­i­pate by us­ing their vot­ing voices, and to mak­ing Elec­tion Day run as ef­fi­ciently as pos­si­ble.

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