UPDATE: Davison County election results in doubtAuditor says ballots were apparently over-counted due to machine error; new count set for Thursday.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
There are errors in Tuesday’s Davison County election results that could conceivably alter the outcome of some races, Auditor Susan Kiepke said Wednesday afternoon.
“It looks like some test data was included in the results,” Kiepke initially said Wednesday at her office when questioned by The Daily Republic.
But she later said it’s also possible some ballots, perhaps as many as 500, were counted more than once. A recount, or technically a second counting of the ballots, is set for 9:30 a.m. today at the Commissioners’ Room in the Davison County Courthouse in Mitchell.
Technically, it will be a second count before the votes are canvassed, not a recount as legally defined, South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant said. Under state law, a recount can only be requested by a losing candidate within three days of the state canvass and only if the candidate lost by 2 percent locally and one-quarter of a percent statewide.
But it did throw a cloud over the results that were released Tuesday night, Kiepke said, and she called that “very disheartening” and a major disappointment.
“This is the worst thing that has happened to me since I came into office,” Kiepke said.
On Wednesday, The Daily Republic called her office to inquire about the 407-vote difference between the total number of votes in the city’s street referendum and mayor’s race. There were 4,733 votes reported in the mayor’s race and 4,326 in the street issue.
After a series of phone calls, the newspaper was told by an Auditor’s Office staffer that there was a “discrepancy” that may affect all the results.
Kiepke said extra ballots were added to the count, apparently by machine error. That means the county’s turnout is also in question after being reported as 50 percent on the secretary of state’s website. That figure more than doubled the statewide turnout.
Kiepke is receiving advice from Gant and Davison County State’s Attorney Pat Smith on how to proceed.
The Davison County Commission already had been scheduled to sit as the canvassing board today. The ballots are being kept in boxes in the Auditor’s Office and will not be opened until this morning, when the second count will start, Kiepke said.
When asked if this could change the outcome of races, she said it possibly could and Gant agreed.
“It is possible because of the machine error,” Gant said. “They are going to count the ballots again. There was a mechanical failure in the machine that counts the ballots.”
Gant said the plan is to fix the machine, run tests and then count the ballots. The votes were counted by an ES&S M650 central count scanner. The machine is also used by Minnehaha and Pennington counties and is faster than vote-counting machines used in most South Dakota counties, he said.
“If they can’t fix it, they’re supposed to bring us a new machine,” Kiepke said.
After the ballots are counted a second time, the results will be presented to the Davison County canvassing board.
The ballots are secured in boxes and will not be opened until Thursday morning.
Davison County Commission Chairman John Claggett said he and Kiepke are trying to sort out how the process will work.
In past election canvasses, the commissioners reviewed reports and approved the results of elections. It will be more complex, and more scrutinized, this time.
Claggett finished fourth in the mayoral race, according to the results released Tuesday. He said he hadn’t considered that perhaps he should not take part in the second count and canvass.
“That’s an interesting point, and I hadn’t really thought of it,” he said.
Gant said he feels Claggett should not be involved, at least in anything connected to the mayoral race.
“If he is concerned about it, he probably shouldn’t,” he said.
Gant, as secretary of state, Gov. Dennis Daugaard and state Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson make up the state canvassing board and all recuse themselves in any races they are in, Gant said.
“If it’s our race, we can’t do it,” he said. “We have to have one of our staff do it for the race.”
Commissioner Denny Kiner is out of town, so former commissioner Bernie Schmucker will sit in on the Davison County canvassing board. Claggett said he does not think any results will change once the votes are totaled again.
“I wouldn’t assume so, but time will tell what happens,” he said.
Davison County had numerous local issues on the ballot Tuesday, including a Mitchell mayoral race, a Mitchell referendum on changing three one-way streets to two-way, a Mitchell school board race, a county treasurer Republican primary, and a District 20 state Senate Republican primary.
Most of the races in Tuesday’s election had wide margins, but some were relatively close.
Ken Tracy was declared the new mayor of Mitchell Tuesday night, finishing first in a six-candidate field. Tracy was reported to have 1,465 votes, while Jerry Toomey had 1,208.
“I guess this kind of throws a crinkle into the thing,” Tracy said.
But he remained “confident and hopeful the vote won’t change. I guess we will have to wait and see.”
“Wow, that’s all I can say,” Toomey replied when told of the problem. “It would be great to see if that would happen and I could pull this out.”
Toomey said he will attend the recount this morning; Tracy was unsure if he will show up to watch.
Christie Gunkel was declared the winner of the Republican primary for Davison County treasurer, defeating incumbent Treasurer Brenda Veldheer 1,433 to 1,012.
“I guess I am not really sure what to say,” Gunkel said. “I definitely want it to be fair.”
She was not sure if she will attend the recount.
“I’m kind of surprised about this,” she said. “I hope I end up winning after all.”
She plans to attend the recount.
Unofficial vote counts
Davison County had numerous local issues on the ballot Tuesday, including a Mitchell school board race, a county treasurer Republican primary, a Mitchell mayoral race, a Mitchell referendum on changing three one-way streets to two-way, and a District 20 state Senate Republican primary.
Following are the unofficial vote tallies as they were reported Tuesday night, with winners denoted by an asterisk.
Mayor (non-political, no runoff)
*Ken Tracy: 1,465 (31 percent)
Jerry Toomey: 1,208 (26 percent)
John Claggett: 783 (17 percent)
Tara Volesky: 671 (14 percent)
Roger Haley: 442 (9 percent)
Becky Haslam: 164 (3 percent)
District 20 Senate Republican primary (including votes from Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties)
*Mike Vehle: 1,938 (65 percent)
Steve Sibson: 1,043 (35 percent)
Davison County treasurer Republican primary
*Christie Gunkel: 1,433 (59 percent)
Brenda Veldheer: 1,012 (41 percent)
Mitchell street referendum (proposal to change Second, Third and Fourth avenues from one-way to two-way traffic)
*No (keep the streets one-way): 2,754 (64 percent)
Yes (change the streets to two-way): 1,572 (36 percent)
Mitchell Board of Education (non-political, two seats for top two vote-getters, with some votes from district areas outside Davison County)
*Neil Putnam: 3,389 (39 percent)
*Theresa Kriese: 3,275 (38 percent)
Craig Guymon: 990 (12 percent)
Ed Potzler: 933 (11 percent)