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Poll worker raise sought; official: More money needed for Election Day

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Orangeburg County map

Orangeburg state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter is the 2022 T&D Person of the Year.

Orangeburg County’s voter registration and election official is asking local lawmakers to increase the pay for poll workers.

“They don't get much at all,” Orangeburg County Voter Registration and Elections Director Aurora Smalls said.

Smalls spoke to the Orangeburg County Legislative Delegation during their quarterly meeting last week.

A poll worker gets $135 for working on Election Day, she said. That includes the time workers spend on training before the election.

Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, talks about education.

Smalls said the $135 includes the training poll workers receive before the election.

“That is not enough to attract and keep good workers,” Smalls said.

Young people do not want to work a long day for little pay, she said. “They have to be at the polls at 6 o’clock. Polls close at 7. Sometimes they are not out until 7:30, 8 o'clock, 9 o'clock. That is a lot of work for a long day and the money they are getting paid.”

“We would like to pay them what they are worth,” Smalls continued. “They may not be busy all day, but it is their time they are putting in to do that.”

Smalls said the Orangeburg County office is always short poll workers, explaining that four people are needed per precinct but oftentimes only one individual shows up.

Rep. Lonnie Hosey, D-Barnwell, requested a study be done on poll worker pay.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, asked if the pay is consistent across the state.

“The pay is the same for the state, but some counties do give an extra amount to go with it but we have not,” Smalls said.

Cobb-Hunter and Sen. Vernon Stephens, D-Bowman, encouraged Smalls to get in touch with the South Carolina Association of Registration and Election Officials to come up with a desired stipend amount for poll workers.

“It is certainly something we should be able to try,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Along the same lines, Stephens said he was pleased to hear from various county election officials that voter or election fraud was not an issue in the state this past November.

“We have a lot of checks and balances,” Smalls said.

Orangeburg County had a case of an elderly voter who did not understand the process and tried to vote twice – once with an absentee ballot and then in-person. She said it was not intentionally done.

“We can catch that because once we receive a ballot back, we notate everything in the system,” Smalls said. “Once you request one, you can't come to early voting.”

“Any fraud that we receive, we have to report it. Whether we think it may be someone's oversight or someone's error, we don't have an option. It must be reported,” Smalls said.

The Orangeburg County case, “did not have a bearing on the election,” she said.

“That was an older person who did not understand what was going on and did not realize what had happened,” she said. “That was the only one I have ever had.”

In other matters:

• Smalls asked lawmakers to review a situation where some streets in a new neighborhood off of Chestnut Street are divided into two precincts – Suburban 8 and Ward 10.

For example, Youngstown Circle voters vote in the two different precincts.

“Why that is, I don't know but it doesn't make sense,” Smalls said. “It looks like an obvious maybe error.”

“It does make a difference on where they vote and what happens is the voters get confused,” Smalls said. “They are looking at their neighbor and they are saying, ‘Oh my neighbor votes here. That is where I should vote. Why am I not here?’”

Smalls said the matter is also confusing to candidates running for office.

The delegation requested further information on the Census data to see if that was causing the confusion. Lawmakers said they will look at the Census data to see about fixing the problem.

• Smalls also noted there was a question about Ward 3 related to state House districts, noting that the precinct has been divided into a number of House districts.

Cobb-Hunter and Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, requested Smalls look at the 2024 map of House districts, noting they will be different than the current maps.

“If we are going to change them, I think we ought to make sure we are only changing them one time,” Cobb-Hunter said.

• The delegation was presented with three requests for Parks and Recreation Development funding: Lake Edisto Park, $65,592.02; City of Orangeburg Spray Park, $25,000; and Nix-Stilton, $14,239.36.

Lawmakers will review the requests before making a final decision.

• Harvey Elwood Jr., operator of WOCS 93.7 FM in Orangeburg, requested the delegation support the station's efforts to start a television network to the tune of about $250,000 in state money annually.

The network will cover Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun counties, he said.

Elwood said the station has received about $500,000 in U.S. Department of Agriculture funds and is seeking an additional $250,000 grant for a total of $1 million.

Elwood said the funding is “the bare minimum to exist.”

“To be consistent, we need a consistent source of funding that comes from the state annually,” Elwood said. “We need sustainable financing and support to do this. We have been doing this on a shoestring budget.”

The delegation took the matter under advisement.

• Lawmakers heard from several judicial candidates running for open judicial seats up for election Feb. 1.

Of local interest, Mandy Kimmons, who is running for Family Court in the First Judicial Circuit, Seat 3, made an appearance. The First Judicial Circuit oversees Orangeburg, Calhoun and Dorchester counties.

Kimmons is running for the seat held by Judge Nancy Chapman McLin, who is retiring. The successor will serve the remainder of the unexpired term of that office, which expires June 30, 2028.

• Appointed Orangeburg Boys and Girls Club CEO Laura Washington to the First Steps Board.

• The next scheduled meeting of the Legislative Delegation is Monday, April 10, at 5:30 p.m. in Orangeburg County Council Chambers at the County Administration building on Amelia Street.

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