CHESTER -- The Chester County chapter of the NAACP has asked the U.S. Justice Department to monitor the upcoming South Carolina presidential primaries in the county, citing concerns about the reliability of voting machines.
The request, first reported Wednesday at heraldonline.com, has not been granted by the Justice Department. The department will announce Friday whether it will grant the request, representative Jodi Bobb said in an e-mail to The Herald.
The Rev. Bill Stringfellow, president of Chester's NAACP branch, said he asked federal officials to monitor the elections before a public disagreement with the county's election commission. That dispute was over the commission's decision to combine some polling sites for this week's Republican primary and next week's Democratic primary.
"We requested that they come and monitor the election because people, they pull all kinds of stinky stuff," Stringfellow said.
Earlier this month, the election commission received a letter from the Justice Department approving the combined polling sites. Stringfellow and some other black leaders maintain the merger will dilute the black vote by forcing voters in predominantly black wards to drive to a predominantly white precinct to vote.
But the commission's director, Earl Moore, has refuted that notion, saying the decision stemmed from the amount of money his office has available for the upcoming primaries.
In April, Moore gave his budget to the county. The primary dates weren't finalized until September. He had money for one election, but not two. He has insisted the shift won't be permanent -- just for these primaries.
The combination would save taxpayers more than $26,000, said Moore, who is black.
Stringfellow said he knows of at least three times that the Justice Department has monitored elections in Chester. He said he requested the agency's help because of questions about the accuracy of the voting machines used in South Carolina.
"When you vote with that electronic machine -- they'll tell you it's not so -- but you can change that vote with that machine very easily," Stringfellow said.
Last month, top election officials in Ohio and Colorado declared that iVotronic machines are unfit for elections. The ban was prompted by a study done for the state of Ohio that said electronic voting systems could be corrupted with magnets or with some handheld electronic devices.
The iVotronic machines have been used statewide in South Carolina since 2006. They'll remain in place, the state election commission has said, because no malfunctions have ever been documented in the state. Various problems have occurred, but they were caused by human error, according to a spokesman for the state election commission.
The company that makes the machines says on its Web site that it disagrees with the Ohio report's technical findings.
Although he insists the NAACP request is about voting machines, Stringfellow noted that, in light of the combined polls, the monitoring is needed now more than ever.
As for Moore, he said he has no problem with the Justice Department monitoring Chester County elections.
"They talked to me the other day," he said of the department. "I told them, 'Bring it on.'"
The Justice Department is welcome to monitor every polling site, Moore said, because he runs a fair election.
"Send George Bush down here and the whole CIA department," he said. "They ain't gonna find nothing wrong."
Like Chester and other counties across the state, York County also uses the touch-screen voting machines. The county also has temporarily combined some polls to save money.
But the Justice Department hasn't notified York County officials about monitoring elections there, said Wanda Hemphill, director of the York County Registration and Election Office.