For all the attention that Richland County’s election day debacle has received – justifiably so – it’s hard to get too exercised about. As lawmakers and Richland leaders wail and shout about the miscarriage of justice and the incompetent blundering that they’ve seen, we can’t help but shake our heads and smile. Obviously, none of them have ever followed an Atlantic Beach election.
For those who haven’t been following the news in Richland County, a quick recap: The entire election process in the populous county this year was marked by a series of breakdowns. First, the county did not put out enough voting machines, causing enormous lines and delays that in some cases stretched up to seven hours. Reports followed of inexperienced or untrained polling workers making delays worse – and many voters who simply gave up.
After voting finally ended, counting the ballots was also marked by failures. Inexplicably, two types of absentee ballots were sent out, and one could not be read by machine, meaning many had to be hand-counted. After that counting was believed to be finished, several bags of paper ballots were discovered lying in a closet. Some voters reported being sent to the county elections office to vote to avoid delays, which is not a voting precinct and resulted in their votes being tossed. In short, the whole process was a tragic comedy, from start to finish.
And yet, the county’s results were certified, 13 days after the election. And – while the effort is now under way to prevent similar problems in the future – the results are being accepted and the county is moving on. Contrast that with Atlantic Beach, where 389 days after the Nov. 1, 2011, election, nothing has changed. The winners of that election are still not seated, held up by appeals, suits and the general obstinance of a town that just can’t seem to hold a vote without throwing around conspiracy theories and bringing in the courts.
What’s worse, it’s become so ordinary and unremarkable that nobody seems to particularly care anymore. Atlantic Beach’s 2003 election was not settled until mid-2005. Its 2007 election was not settled until mid-2009. Its 2009 election wasn’t settled until mid-2011. The governor made a good start in March when she ordered that the most recent election be overseen by Horry County. Yet the results are still tied up in court.
It’s hard to say what the next step should be, barring a complete dissolution of the town and its recently inept government. But clearly some strong, outside hand needs to come and guide the town, at least for elections if not more. This is not how democracy should work. Elections should not take a year and a half to settle, and neither the citizens of Atlantic Beach nor the citizens of South Carolina should stand for it.