South Carolina: Independent vote audit needed

September 24, 2011

Independent vote audit needed

Sunday, September 25, 2011


During the last legislative session, a Senate judiciary subcommittee heard testimony from the State Election Commission and its critics about problems in the 2010 elections. The committee suggested that the two sides work together to recommend improvements to the process.

So far that hasn't happened. Critics of the system, including the League of Women Voters, contend that the state's electronic voting system is inherently flawed. The State Election Commission says the system is functional and that problems experienced in the last general election can be fixed.

Given the continuing disagreement over the electronic voting system, which is used throughout the state, an independent look at the situation is in order. The Legislative Audit Council ought to be given the task.

A column on our Commentary page from former Clemson computer science professor Eleanor Hare cites problems with verifying data from the 2010 election.

Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire concedes difficulties in that process, which he attributes largely to having undertaken the review months after the end of the election.

Nevertheless, he acknowledges that election officials have had difficulties working with their critics. "It's hard to have any level of trust for a group whose stated goal is to discredit the system," he said.

Duncan Buell, a computer science professor at the University of South Carolina who has been working with the League on its voting integrity project, says the goal is rather to produce a reliable system for which voting results can be verified.

Dr. Buell acknowledged that "there has been essentially no back and forth whatsoever" with state election officials.

The League and other critics have raised objections that won't easily go away. Confidence in the state election system has been shaken.

An independent performance audit could resolve the issue by examining the system here as well as similar operations in other states. The LAC could measure the adequacy of the commission's response and recommend further improvements.

The election process is essential to democracy, and the credibility of the system is in jeopardy.

The Audit Council should be given the task to determine the extent to which the system is dependable, and whether changes need to made.