Justice Dept. won't monitor Chester polls

CHESTER -- The U.S. Justice Department will not monitor today's Democratic primary in Chester County, marking the second time in a week that the agency has denied a request from the local NAACP to monitor an election.

The Rev. Bill Stringfellow, president of Chester's NAACP branch, asked the department to monitor both last week's Republican primary and today's Democratic primary, citing concerns about the accuracy of the voting machines used in South Carolina.

Like last week, Justice Department spokesperson Jodi Bobb said Friday that the department has no plans to monitor the primary in Chester County. Bobb would not comment further.

After talking to a department representative last week, Stringfellow said he was told that the agency had contacted area people who didn't think the local elections needed to be monitored.

Stringfellow said he was told to contact the department if he noticed anything improper during the Republican primary.

"I didn't see anything during the Republican primary that would warrant them to come," Stringfellow said Friday.

Although federal monitors won't be in Chester today, Stringfellow said NAACP observers and out-of-town attorneys will be on hand to make sure the election runs properly. Because today's turnout likely will be higher in a Democratic-heavy county, Stringfellow said, he still worries about potential problems.

His main concern has been the reliability of the voting machines used in the state. The machines have been banned in Ohio and Colorado.

Stringfellow has said his concerns about the machines came before his disagreement with the county's election commission over its plans to combine some polling sites for the primaries.

Earlier this month, the election commission received a letter from the Justice Department approving the combined polling sites. Stringfellow and some other black leaders have said 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 presidential primaries. Other South Carolina counties, including York County, also combined polls to save money.

Moore, who is black, said the poll merger will save Chester County taxpayers more than $26,000.

On Friday, Moore reiterated his point that other counties across the state have combined polls to save money.

"The common consensus among the majority of people in this county is that we're not doing anything wrong," he said. "They're glad we're doing what we're doing. They're glad we're standing up for their taxes."

Moore said he had hoped the Justice Department would come and see that his office runs a fair election.

"I really wish they were coming," he said. "I'm tired of this. I'm tired of the allegations. We run a good operation."