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Man tells Commission it is wasting money on new vote machine

A week after the Davison County Commission approved the purchase of a new vote-counting machine, a spat over the $72,000 cost to the county flared Tuesday.

Mitchell resident Earl Guymon told the Commission that Davison County Auditor Susan Kiepke, not the machine, should be replaced.

Guymon told the Commission human intervention was the primary reason there were differences in the 2012 primary election vote totals and said "nothing in politics happens by accident."

He closed his statement to the Commission -- which was a part of the meeting's citizen input period -- saying, "We need a new auditor, not a new machine."

Last week, the Commission approved the purchase of a new $108,000 machine — $36,000 of which will be offset by a grant — to be used during the June 3 primary election.

The new DS850 machine will be bought from Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb., the same company that supplied the current machine, which was the subject of controversy when the county Auditor's Office reported inaccurate vote tallies the night of a June 2012 election.

"Voter confidence cannot be bought by spending $108,000 on a new ballot scanner," Guymon said. "Trust and respect must be earned by sharing the whole truth, all the time."

Guymon said the money that is being spent on the vote-counting machine would be better spent on county roads.

On the day after the election in 2012, Kiepke acknowledged errors in the results, including a discrepancy of more than 400 votes between a pair of city-level races that should have had a similar number of votes. The next day, a 14-hour canvassing process counted the votes twice more, changing final victory margins and vote totals but leaving winners and losers the same.

At the time, Kiepke thought problems were related to the machine and its software, even though the ES&S technician said there was nothing wrong with the machine. A task force led by South Dakota's secretary of state confirmed that the machine was "100 percent accurate" later in 2012.

Kiepke told The Daily Republic following the commission's regular meeting that Guymon's criticisms were short-sighted.

"He doesn't understand the whole election process," she said. "There's a whole lot more to it than just the night of the election."

She said she has never denied that human error was part of the problem during the June 5, 2012 primary election. But given the struggles that the vote machine technician from Election Systems and Software had the following day with fixing the machine, Kiepke said there were other problems as well.

"(Human error) was part of it," she said. "But on that particular day, that machine didn't work right either. It didn't clear like it was supposed to."

Following Guymon's speech, commissioners and other county officials again supported Kiepke's recommendation to buy a new machine. Guymon is the father of former Mitchell resident Craig Guymon, who ran for a Mitchell Board of Education seat in 2012 and was convicted of voter fraud in 2013 after voting twice in the same election.

Commissioner Denny Kiner said after 15 years with the M650 model, the time was coming for a new machine and this would be a chance to both keep up with technology and get a new machine. After calling the current machine "a lemon," Kiner is still sour about how the whole thing unfolded two years ago.

"It's time to upgrade (the machine) anyway," Kiner said. "The damn thing is 15 years old. The machine will be more user friendly so that there's less chance of human error. We're not saying there wasn't human error. We've never said that.

"I honestly don't trust that machine. Those ballots were counted numerous times and they came out different. I know because I was standing here watching it happen. So did it work right? No, it didn't work right."

Commissioner Randy Reider said the county needs a commitment to accuracy and that people just want to know the election is fair. He said if a new machine would do that, he supported it.

Kiepke said the purchase of a new vote-counting machine is no different from the upgrades to software and equipment occurring in other departments, such as the Sheriff's Office or the Highway Department.

"It's no different than the Highway Department upgrading their loaders and graders to the tune of over $6 million," Kiepke said. "I'm upgrading the equipment. Does it have to be done this year? No, there's no mandate that it has to be done this year. But after the election in 2012, the commissioners said we're getting rid of this machine."

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