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South Carolina primary plagued by bad voting machines, snow

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  • Up to 4 inches of snow possible in warm-weather state
  • Electronic voting machines fail to work in Myrtle Beach's county
  • Some voters annoyed by calls from campaign offices
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(CNN) -- Republican presidential candidates seeking a win in South Carolina's primary -- and an edge in what so far has been a wide-open race -- were hoping voters would head to the polls despite bad weather.

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Voters hurry through the rain to cast ballots Saturday at a senior center in Bluffton, South Carolina.

Rain and snow were falling in some places Saturday. CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras said as much as 4 inches of snow could fall in the western and northern parts of the state.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was victorious earlier this month in Iowa caucuses, said the snow was "something we hoped wouldn't happen."

But, Huckabee said, "We have to take the weather for what it is. We don't get to choose it. I just hope that our voters are so committed that it doesn't affect the fact that they are going to vote, because ... it's a mission that they have to deal with today."

Malfunctioning voting machines plagued Horry County, which contains the cities of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. "Human error" put the machines offline in 80 percent of the county's precincts during Saturday's voting, according to county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier

By 4 p.m. ET, only about four of the county's 118 precincts were without a working machine, Bourcier said. Polls closed at 7 p.m. ET.

The campaign of GOP contender Sen. John McCain had sought to obtain a court order to extend voting in the northeastern county by an additional hour but were unable to do so. McCain did very well in Horry County when he ran for president in 2000.

Bourcier said that voters in the affected precincts used paper ballots and any scrap of paper available to cast their votes. She said the county was bringing in 40 to 50 extra people to count ballots after polls close, and, she said, officials were aware that an order extending voting hours was possible.

Bourcier said the problem was caused by "human error." The last step in preparing the machines for Election Day is a "clearing" test that resets the machine data to zero. That test was not done on most of the machines, which locked them and made them unable to function, she said.

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Katon Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said that he had confidence the problem was being fixed.

"We expect a full and fair count," Dawson said in a telephone interview with CNN. "In South Carolina, our citizens take the right to vote very seriously. We have full confidence in our state elections commission, which is running this primary. Any questions that have arisen are being addressed."

He noted that "there is always a backup in case there is an election machine malfunction and a ballot can't be cast."

Historically, the path to the GOP presidential nomination has gone through South Carolina, which relishes its role of being the political gateway to the South. Residents like to point out that no one since Ronald Reagan has reached the White House without a South Carolina win.

"South Carolina is the state where the Republican base passes judgment on the candidates," CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said. "If conservatives are going to rally behind any single contender, we'll see that happen in South Carolina."

South Carolina's Democratic presidential primary will be held on Saturday, January 26.

As of around 11 a.m., about 140 people had turned out to vote in the Seven Oaks precinct of Lexington County, South Carolina. Some of them, however, complained about phone calls earlier in the week from campaigns.

"It's a little much," said Kay Burns, who said she voted for Sen. John McCain of Arizona because "I like what he stands for."

Others said they voted for Huckabee.

"I like the fact he's a Christian," said voter Stacee Groome.

Kay Burns' husband, Ellus, said he voted for former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee because of his "presentation, maturity and Reaganism." Burns said the most important issues for him are the economy and international relations. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mary Snow, Mark Preston and Lisa Goddard contributed to this report.

All About South CarolinaU.S. Presidential ElectionRepublican Party

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