The first statewide uses of South Carolina's new voting system will take place in 2020. The new system moves the state toward a paper-based system, which will be a significant change for some voters, according to the SC State Election Commission Executive Director Marci Andino. Electronic systems were first introduced in some locations in 1986.
The SC State Election Commission exhibited the state’s new voting system during
Hometown Legislative Action Day.
"Some voters that are 50 years old or younger have never voted on paper," she said.
Andino presented the new system, first piloted in October 2019, during Hometown Legislative Action Day. Its paper trail exists for security and auditing purposes. The new voting machines are known as ballot marking devices, since they do not tabulate votes themselves as the previous machines did. Voters feed their paper ballots into these devices before voting electronically. The device then prints their choices on the paper, after which voters take the paper ballot and feed it into a scanner. South Carolina now has 13,779 of these ballot marking devices and 2,500 scanners.
Andino described the importance of election security. Although she said it has always been a consideration, the 2016 election brought about concerns over foreign election interference and hacking, as well as the spread of disinformation through social media. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security now classifies election processes as critical infrastructure for national security.
She also took a look at the state of municipal elections. About 143 of the 271 municipalities have transferred authority to conduct their elections over to their county voter registration and election commissions. Some have transferred all authority, and some have retained their right to hear election protests. When authority is entirely transferred, the city or town no longer has the need to maintain a Municipal Election Commission.
Andino said that transferring authority places the election process in the hands of full-time officials. This can be important, she said, both because of the increasingly technical requirements of voting and because of the 2018 change to SC Code Section 7-13-190(E), which now requires elections to take place even when only one candidate files to run. She added that transferring authority helps to ensure that all election results are available through the SC Election Commission's website.
She also encouraged standardization of election dates, suggesting more municipalities follow the trend of staging elections in November of odd-numbered years. About 90 municipalities have elections at various other times throughout the year.
"A lot of them are concentrated in the spring, and just about every Tuesday there's an election somewhere," she said.
Moving municipal elections to the time of general elections during November of even-numbered years creates its own problems, according to Andino. Municipal offices at that time appear at the bottom of the ballot, below major national and state races, which she said leads to a drop off in the number of voters casting ballots in those races.
City and town councils who change election schedules do so by passing ordinances. They have to choose whether to shorten or lengthen the terms of sitting councilmembers who are affected.
Moving to November of an odd year, as many have done, "creates a municipal election day," Andino said.
"Come the first Tuesday in November, voters are accustomed to going to the polls," she said. "[In November of odd years] you're going to get more media coverage, voters are expecting to go to the polls then. It reduces voter confusion, not knowing if they have an election or not, and voter fatigue."