COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A group of South Carolina senators started a review of the agency that runs elections with praise for how they handled voting during a pandemic in 2020.

A Senate Oversight subcommittee had questions Thursday for South Carolina Election Commission Director Marci Andino about her plans for the future and she talked about new voting software and security upgrades planned for the statewide voting system. They also asked her to come back for another meeting after they ran out of time.

Senators also took time to thank Andino for getting money to get protective equipment for poll workers and polling sites to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and training new workers quickly when older ones decided to stay home because they were worried about getting the disease.

They also praised her for handling a crush of absentee ballots in both the June primary and November general election that shattered all records after anyone was allowed to vote that way because of the pandemic.

“I think they did an incredible job under the most difficult circumstances probably any of us could have ever imagined," said Sen. Nikki Setzler, a Democrat from West Columbia.

“It was probably the best, smoothest general election that I can remember under the worst of circumstances," said Andino, who had temporary employees running offices to keep absentee voting available as outbreaks spread among the regular workers.

The next big task for Andino is a software upgrade that will make the operation system for election computers more secure and change a confusing layout system.

In 2020, the only choice voters could make on the first page was to vote a straight party ticket. If they made a selection and did not skip that page, the rest of their computer ballot was marked for those party's candidates, although they could make changes.

About 63% of all voters picked straight party in 2020, compared to 50% in the previous presidential election in 2016 and election officials and others worried some of that increase might have been caused by the confusion.

Crews will spend the next several months installing the new software, Andino said.

“Our staff has to touch every county work station, every ballot marking device used in polling places," Andino said.

South Carolina lawmakers have filed a number of bills to change elections, including moving them from the independent State Election Commission to the office of the elected Secretary of State.

But only a few proposals have received hearings, including one requiring counties to follow the state standards in checking absentee ballots and other election matters and another giving the Legislature some oversight on the members appointed to the State Election Commission.


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