As discussions begin to ramp up about South Carolina potentially replacing its nearly 15-year-old voting machines, some legislators are suggesting that the state should consider using paper ballots.
Election officials are set to ask for $60 million in the coming legislative session to help replace the state’s 13,000 increasingly antiquated voting machines. However, some legislators — including Democratic state Reps. Beth Bernstein and Todd Rutherford, Republican state Rep. Kirkman Finlay, and Democratic state Sen. Thomas McElveen — believe that a return to paper ballots would prove more cost effective and could cut down on election day lines, such as the long waits that were seen during the Nov. 6 election.
About 1.7 million people statewide voted this year, a record for a midterm election in South Carolina.
“Some people might think of [pencil and paper] as being outdated or archaic, but that’s the most reliable form and the most economical, and it’s easier to facilitate and administrate,” Bernstein tells Free Times. “Plus, you’d have an instant paper trail. And the voter is confident that their ballot, exactly what is put in, is being utilized.”
Bernstein suggested that the completed would-be paper ballots could be fed into a “high resolution optic scanner” for tallying.
According to ballotpedia.org, a nonprofit digital encyclopedia of American politics and elections, there are a number of states that exclusively use some form of paper balloting.
Pointing to a recent Statehouse Report article from University of South Carolina professor of computer science and engineering Duncan Buell, Bernstein estimates that a new paper ballot and optical scanner system of voting could cost the state between $18 million and $25 million. Under that method, each precinct would also have one computer voting machine to comply with certain portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As reported by Seanna Adcox at The Post and Courier, the $60 million request from state election officials would be for a system that has a paper component for auditing. The state’s current voting machines, which are 14 years old, do not provide a paper trail.
Free Times has reached out to a state Election Commission spokesman.
Finlay, the Republican who on Nov. 6 secured a fourth term in Columbia’s House District 75, is familiar with the headaches voting machines can cause. When speaking with Free Times, he referenced 2012, the year he was first elected. That election was marred in Richland County by hourslong lines, broken voting machines and precincts with a paucity of voting machines.
“In 2012, people in my district stood in line for three and four hours at a time because voting machines crashed,” Finlay says. “With paper ballots, you could have 30 polling stations open [within a given precinct]. There would be no rush to review constitutional amendments. There would be no batteries that crash. When you think about the ability to have 30 people voting all at once, and you’re just making sure they have a private spot and a pencil and a ballot, after what we’ve been through with lines and machine crashing, etc., that is very appealing.”
Finlay knows it might seem odd, in 2018, to go from a computer-based system to a pencil-and-paper system. Still, he thinks it could be the best move.
“I feel like I’m being antediluvian, but sometimes the simple ways are the best ways,” Finlay says.
Bernstein says legislation will be prefiled in December — in the House and Senate — to address replacing the current voting machines. She notes the Legislature has a more than $170 million surplus from last budget year that could possibly be tapped into for a new voting system.
The District 78 representative says she thinks it will be important for lawmakers to be diligent in selecting the specific voting system it needs.
“I do think it is important that we make sure it’s properly vetted, and don’t sign up and endorse a [specific] system where we haven’t gotten all the details and expenditures,” Bernstein says.