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Nov. 7 election features new voting machines and lots of choices
By ELIZABETH BUSH
Nov 2, 2006 - 1:55:00 PM

Melody Goggin, registration clerk for Berkeley County Elections and Voter Registration, tests and calibrates one of the 331 “iVotronic” touch screen voting machines that will used for the November 7 election.
Your votes really do count and Wanda Farley, director of Berkeley County Elections and Voter Registration, has 331 machines standing by to prove it. Lined up in a large back room near Farley’s office are the electronic touch screen computers that will tally your ballots when you head to the polls for the Nov. 7 general election.

"The results are instantaneous," said Farley, while working with staff members last week to test and calibrate their electronic fleet. "It’s a cumulative total. At the end of the night, with all the totals, we report them to the state election commission…A perfect election day would be all registered voters voting without any problems."

In Berkeley County, that would mean all 78,032 registered voters casting their ballots on Election Day. Not likely if you look at voter turnout trends over the past several years. Although about 77 percent of Daniel Islanders voted in the 2004 general election, which included the presidential race between George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, a dismal 10 percent of islanders took the time to vote in the primary election last June. Those who follow the Lowcountry’s political scene predict the upcoming statewide general election will likely fall somewhere in between.

"South Carolina is no different than any other state in that voter turnout in mid-term elections is going to be low, especially compared to that of a general election," said Dr. Brooke M. Rogers, an assistant professor of political science at Charleston Southern University. "That being said, there are some campaign-specific factors that could increase turnout (in the upcoming election). More specifically, there are local campaign issues that are salient enough to cause an increase in turnout in some areas."

On Daniel Island and in other parts of the region, those issues include property tax reform, future county growth, and educational spending. In the race for the District 2 seat on the Berkeley County School Board for example, Daniel Island voters could pack a powerful punch at the polls. According to Farley, 3,301 of the 5,471 registered voters in the district are Daniel Islanders. Daniel Island Neighborhood Association President Tim Callanan stressed the importance of this particular election to island residents.

"When you think about what affects your daily life, it’s really these candidates in the off-year election," said Callanan. "…The most important message is to get out and vote, whether you like the way things are going with the new Daniel Island School, or you feel some need for a change in direction, regardless of who the candidate is, the best thing for Daniel Island is that we get a strong turnout."

Although Daniel Island has only had an official polling site since 2004, according to Farley, the area traditionally beats national trends when it comes to voting.

"(Daniel Islanders) seem to be a lot more civic-minded and a lot more aware of the situation," added Farley, who said that the island’s registered voters have increased by 1,000 since the 2004 election. "But it’s important to make sure that you have reviewed the candidates, reviewed the amendments, and are aware of what’s on the ballot in your district. It’s just your right."

This year’s ballot includes multiple pages of amendments, said Farley. In addition to selecting candidates for a variety of offices, voters will also be asked to weigh in on issues like how to legally define marriage in South Carolina, how the state’s retirement dollars should be invested, and whether or not the General Assembly should amend its adjournment schedule.

Rose Brown, one of Farley’s employees, spent much of the day last Wednesday programming the tiny flash cards containing all of the election definitions that will be used in the voting machines.

"It’s the brains of the machine," said Brown of the computer cards. "The ballot this time is so long…Some are shorter, but the majority of the districts will have between two, seven and nine pages."

Although the relatively new machines, called iVotronic devices, were used by several municipalities in Berkeley County for the recent primary and run-off elections, Nov. 7 will mark their first general election.

"They’ve worked very well so far," said Farley. "It’s a lot more portable. In the old system, each machine weighed over 200 pounds and these are on wheels and very portable, so they are very convenient."

"This system is a lot more user-friendly," added Brown. "And for curbside, the ones who cannot go into the polls, we can actually take this machine out to them."

According to Farley, South Carolina is now one of the few states in the country to offer a "uniform voting system." In the past, the state utilized punch cards, optical scanning devices, and direct response electronic systems.

"We were all over the board with the different kinds of voting systems," explained Farley. "With federal grant monies that the state applied for, they were able to incorporate a uniform voting system for the entire state. (We’re all) on the same page now."

In addition to preparing voting machines, Farley and her team have also been working to train more than 350 poll workers to cover the county’s 50 precincts for Election Day. Although it may not be the "perfect" day Farley is hoping for, it will certainly be a day that will have an impact on life in the Lowcountry, one way or another. Callanan urged Daniel Islanders to make sure their voices are heard.

"If you want to make sure that your tax dollars stay a little closer to home, regardless of who you vote for, go out and vote," he said.



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