In the 2022 Primaries, a report compiled by a local poll watcher group found that the Aiken County Elections Office appears to have broken 21 of 23 laws in whole or in part governing the conduct of the Primaries. How much has changed since then?

The new election legislation passed by the SC Legislature includes stipulations for the State Election Commission to set its own policy for hand count audits to be performed prior to the certification of elections (7-3-20(D)(19)). Sounds a bit like a case of the fox guarding the hen house if you ask me, but SC election laws don’t necessarily provide reassurance that elections will be handled with accuracy and transparency.

The SEC website details the process for these audits:

  • “Precincts and offices are selected for the audit.
    • The SEC selects the precincts and offices for each county in federal and state-level elections.
    • Local election officials select the precincts and offices for local elections.
  • Election officials publicly open the ballot box for the selected precinct(s) and hand count the votes for the selected office on the voter-verified paper ballots.”

Publicly. Hold on to that thought. Back in August, I submitted a FOIA request to our Aiken County Elections Director Cynthia Holland inquiring about her method of selecting the precincts and offices for the local election audits, to which I just received a copy and pasted response from the SEC website above, reinforcing that the audits are open to the public, but no written procedure of how the office selects precincts for local elections. Apparently not only does the Aiken office not HAVE a written procedure on file, they simply didn’t even perform a hand count audit of any local races, at least not for the 2022 General Election.

During the August Aiken County Delegation meeting when the SEC presented the results of their audit of the Aiken County Elections Office, I utilized the public comment time to inquire of SEC Director Howard Knapp about the protocol when the hand count audits don’t reconcile, as not all had reconciled during the 2022 Primaries as per the SEC website. Mr. Knapp stated that he didn’t know and hadn’t seen the results (again, these are on his website). In fact, not all of the counties submitted results. I wonder what happened to them? Be sure to check out page 39 as it shows that the number of ballots the machine counted were fewer than the hand count audit revealed.

Fast forward to a week before the 2022 General Election. I had attended the ‘public test’ of the machines a week before the election on 10/31, which turned out not to be a public test of the DS200, the machines that scan our ballots on election day – which was never publicly announced or done in Aiken prior to the 2022 midterms, even though the law prescribes it – but rather it was a public test of the DS450, the machine that tabulates the absentee ballots. At the test, unfolded, pristine ballots were loaded into the machine, so I’m sure it worked perfectly reading the absentee ballots when they came back from the public that had been folded multiple times. In fact, a friend in Lexington County who attended their absentee ballot tabulation on Election Day said there were issues with the machine not properly detecting write in votes because of the way the ballots had to be folded to fit in the envelopes. Needless to say, the public test was disappointing and not very revealing. For a little comic relief, watch this video of what the public testing is like:

After the public testing, I reached out to one of our Aiken County Elections Commissioners and asked when the hand count audit would be as it is supposed to be completed prior to certification of the election, which was on Friday, Nov. 11. The response was that they would let me know. The Monday before Election Day an acquaintance was at the County Registration & Election Office and I asked if they could find out – to which the Director, Cynthia Holland, replied that she didn’t know yet but would let us know. The next evening I was at the poll where I was watching and a different County Elections Commissioner was heading over to the office so I asked again about the hand count audit, to which the response after they spoke with the Chairman of the Aiken County Elections Commission, Andrew Marine, was that no one knew when it was going to be yet. The next morning, Wednesday, I sent out a text message to some members of our local legislative delegation, inquiring about this process. Later that afternoon, I contacted the Aiken Registration & Election Office and the person I spoke with stated they had not scheduled it yet but that they would take my number and let me know. I asked how they proposed to make it available for public viewing if they hadn’t already published it, to which they had no answer. That evening, I received a message from Sen. Tom Young and another Elections Commissioner stating that the hand count audit would be performed the following day, Thursday, Nov. 10 at noon. As chance would have it, I had an appointment scheduled for noon that I was unable to change, so I asked for some volunteers in our local GOP’s poll watcher group and two women volunteered to attend in my stead.

They arrived about 10 minutes before noon and were made to wait outside. At precisely noon, Chairman Andrew Marine unlocked the door and invited them in, saying that unfortunately the audit had been performed at 9:00 am and was already complete, but they could view the results. I have a question: If the audit had already been completed at 9, and they had really intended for it to be open to the public, then why did they make the observers wait until noon?

On the table were stacks of ballots with paper wrappers around them indicating the race that had been ‘audited’. Next to each was an Election Day Hand-Count Audit Report like the one linked above for the Primaries. Interestingly enough, one observer noted that one of the races that had been audited, Levels 72, State Treasurer, had listed the following candidates on the reconciliation sheet: Rep Curtis Loftis 214, Dem Rosemounda Peggy Butler 80. Wait? What? Curtis Loftis ran for State Treasurer but against Sarah E Work, not Rosemounda Peggy Butler. She ran for Secretary of State! And she HAD gotten 80 votes…but not at Levels 72. Ms. Butler got 80 votes at Montmorenci 78, which also happened to be ‘audited’. This was pointed out and Ms. Holland quickly went into the other room and came back with a corrected Election Day Hand-Count Audit Report, showing the 63 votes that Sarah E Work purportedly received.

As soon as I found out that the audit had not been accessible to the public as had been advertised, I communicated my concerns with our local delegation, and received the response that Chairman Marine would address it the next day at the certification hearing. The next morning, he addressed part of it – the part where he made excuses for not allowing the public to observe the process (whom they KNEW were wanting to view). Listen here, and notice that he said that ‘Michael did the hand count audit…’ but at the bottom of each of the Audit Reports there were 3 names listed as having performed the audit. Hmmm…who did the audit? Did anyone actually do a recount? Or is it as Mr. Marine says, the office is so understaffed…that what? That they were unable to take the time necessary to perform the hand count audit? What do you think, since such efforts were made to actually restrict the public from observing the process?

I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. I smell a rat. In the video, Mr. Marine stated the witnesses seemed satisfied with the results. Except he neglected to mention that they pointed out that the results didn’t match in one race and a correction had to be made. Does that constitute satisfaction with the results? Or does that indicate they felt something might not be right? He then tries to blame the time change on understaffing. The thing is, they knew that members of the public were wanting to observe, so when the time changed, why not notify the County Commissioners, who could then have passed the information on to the public? Unless they’re trying to hide something. I’m open to these machines, honestly. It’s entirely possible that our machines are counting votes properly. But I have not seen proof to convince me of this yet. I have however seen instances where the machines have NOT tabulated all ballots properly even in South Carolina. Which is why I’m being so persistent in observing the audit. Here’s an example from the 2022 Midterms in South Dakota where they are also using the same equipment South Carolina uses: ES&S DS200: Hand Counted Ballots Not Matching The Totals From The Machines | Frank Speech the Home of Free Speech (Please don’t get turned off because this is associated with Mike Lindell. This is an interview of a grassroots group in S Dakota).

Sound off in the comments below and share this article with your friends. Should this process be open to the public? Or are Chairman Marine and SEC Director Knapp correct, that the public doesn’t need to be privy to this process and we should just trust that they’re doing things on the up and up?