Winners remain after lengthy recount, but numbers changeMarathon recount session completed following vote-counting errors
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
The winners are the same: Tracy, Gunkel, Vehle, Putnam, Kriese and one-way streets.
The vote totals and margins, however, did change after the votes cast in Tuesday’s local elections were counted twice more Thursday at the Davison County Courthouse in Mitchell.
The new counts had been deemed necessary Wednesday after Auditor Susan Kiepke acknowledged errors in Tuesday’s results.
Thursday, Kiepke blamed the errors on the county’s vote-counting machine or the software used with it. Vote totals seem to have been changed at “random,” she said.
“It appears to be a software problem,” she said.
A technician from Election Systems & Software, of Omaha, Neb., spent the day in the office trying to figure out what went wrong and assisting with the recount. He said he is not permitted to disclose his name and declined to answer most questions, but he defended the machine.
“Nothing. I didn’t find nothing wrong with the machine,” he said.
When the new results were announced, Ken Tracy was affirmed as the mayor-elect of Mitchell. Christie Gunkel still unseated her old boss for the job of Davison County treasurer. Neil Putnam and Theresa Kriese kept their Mitchell Board of Education seats.
Mike Vehle is still the winner of the Republican Party’s District 20 state Senate primary, and three one-way streets that were the subject of a referendum will still remain one-way.
“I feel certain we have accurate numbers now,” Kiepke said after the totals were approved by the canvassing board, following almost eight hours of counting and waiting.
All the winning candidates received fewer votes than first reported but still maintained healthy mar-gins.
“Hopefully, we got it right this time,” Tracy said. “Right now I feel a little upset I had to endure this process of waiting and wondering.”
He was at the Davison County Courthouse for most of the day, as was mayoral hopeful and second-place finisher Jerry Toomey. The process started at 9:30 a.m. and didn’t end until just after 5 p.m.
Mayoral candidates Tara Volesky and Roger Haley were at the courthouse for the first part of the count but then departed. County Commission Chairman John Claggett, who also ran for mayor, was at the courthouse all day as part of the county’s canvassing board.
The sixth mayoral candidate, Becky Haslam, was out of state for a family gathering.
Davison County Treasurer Brenda Veldheer, who was defeated by Gunkel in both sets of results, was in and out of the Commissioners’ Room, where the canvassing board met to examine the reports. Her office is adjacent to the Auditor’s Office, though, so she had an eyewitness view of the proceedings.
Toomey finished second Tuesday and again Thursday, but he did cut into Tracy’s lead. On Tuesday, Toomey trailed Tracy 1,465 to 1,208, a margin of 257 votes.
On Wednesday, he was behind 1,209 to 1,036, a difference of 173. The four other candidates all lost votes and finished well behind the top two.
Voters still overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to convert Second, Third and Fourth avenues from one-way traffic to two-way.
It was defeated by a vote of 2,393 to 1,411. The initial report was 2,754 to 1,572.
Davison County’s turnout for the election, which had been reported by the secretary of state’s website as an unusually high 50 percent, plummeted to 36 percent following Thursday’s new counts.
Perhaps even more telling, in the first report, 407 more total votes were cast for mayor than in the streets issue. After the new returns, there was just a 28-vote difference.
It was that initial gap that caught The Daily Republic’s attention Tuesday night and caused it to seek an explanation Wednesday. School board candidate Craig Guymon also contacted The Daily Republic on Tuesday night to question the vote totals in the school board race.
Kiepke said she also found a report Wednesday that seemed out of line, which led to the decision to count the votes again. She could not recall, she said, whether she made the discovery before or after multiple calls from The Daily Republic. Kiepke is an elected official, but she was not on Tuesday’s ballot.
Toomey was upset at times Thursday, as were Tracy and Veldheer. The long wait, problems with the counting process and the overall tension bubbled over at times.
Toomey said he would sleep on the results before deciding if he will consider a challenge to the results.
“How can you trust that machine?” he said. “I don’t, quite frankly. I don’t trust that machine.”
Tracy said he understood Toomey’s feelings and said he would probably do the same thing.
Veldheer questioned ballot security, saying the ballots sat unattended for a time before the recount process, and said she wondered if enough had been done to keep the ballots safe. The answer might be to stage an entirely new election, she said.
The county bought the Model 650 vote scanner for $45,000 in 2005, with the city chipping in some money for the machine. A maintenance and software agreement is part of the package, according to State’s Attorney Pat Smith.
The technician got the machine running by 11:15 a.m. Kiepke had called the Minnehaha County auditor in Sioux Falls and a back-up plan was hatched to drive the ballots to Sioux Falls and scan them there, and then return to Mitchell for a canvassing.
Once the machine was operational, and test ballots were put through it, tape was removed from four cardboard boxes containing the ballots and the count began.
State’s Attorney Smith, who spent much of the day offering advice and support to Kiepke and her staff, said the problem was that more ballots were counted than were submitted.
That meant the election results were not accurate, he said, and led to an announcement Wednesday of the need for a fresh count.
Kiepke and South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant objected to the use of the term “recount,” which they said is only used for a fresh totaling of numbers after a request from a losing candidate in a close race. That’s how the word is defined in state law.
Whether it was a resumption of the count, a fresh count, a second or third count, Kiepke and her staff went through all of the 4,496 ballots twice on Thursday.
“I guess in grade school, we’d call it a do-over,” Smith said.
When they were done, the precinct vote totals from the two counts matched, but the overall totals did not.
Finally, Kiepke counted the precinct totals and found figures that she felt safe in reporting to the canvassing board, which was made up of Claggett and fellow county commissioners Jerry Fischer, Gerald Weiss and Kim Weitala, as well as former commissioner Bernie Schmucker, who filled in for Commissioner Denny Kiner, who was out of town.
The canvassing board, along with Mitchell Finance Officer Marilyn Wilson, the candidates and members of the media, spent hours together talking about the count, telling stories and joking around while the recount proceeded in an adjacent room.
Tracy had been scheduled, as mayor-elect, to speak to the Mitchell Rotary Club at noon Thursday, but canceled his appearance as the count dragged on.
Laughter was common, as were comments about food, coffee and the process. Grumbling was also heard, especially in the hallway as the day dragged on.
Volesky, a mayoral candidate, said before the new results were revealed that she wouldn’t trust the numbers.
“You’re dealing with politics and the good old boy system,” she said. “I don’t trust politicians.”
Kiepke said in the future, she will double-check results on Election Night and take other steps to ensure she is reporting the correct figures.
Tracy said he didn’t want to point fingers, but said steps should be taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
Kiepke said despite all the problems, she appreciates her “exceptional” staff for their efforts and the candidates for their patience.
“I feel the results we have today are accurate,” she said.
Below are the unofficial results as reported Tuesday night, which are listed first, followed by the new results reported Thursday afternoon.
Mayor (non-political, no runoff)
*Ken Tracy: 1,465 (31 percent); 1,209 (32 percent)
Jerry Toomey: 1,208 (26 percent); 1,036 (27 percent)
John Claggett: 783 (17 percent); 636 (17 percent)
Tara Volesky: 671 (14 percent); 582 (15 percent)
Roger Haley: 442 (9 percent); 316 (8 percent)
Becky Haslam: 164 (3 percent); 53 (1 percent)
District 20 Senate Republican primary (votes from Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties)
*Mike Vehle: 1,938 (65 percent); 1,812 (66 percent)
Steve Sibson: 1,043 (35 percent); 929 (34 percent)
Davison County treasurer Republican primary
*Christie Gunkel: 1,433 (59 percent); 1,309 (59 percent)
Brenda Veldheer: 1,012 (41 percent); 899 (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); 2,393 (63 percent)
Yes (change the streets to two-way): 1,572 (36 percent); 1,411 (37 percent)
Mitchell Board of Education (non-political, two seats for top two vote-getters)
*Neil Putnam: 3,389 (39 percent); 2,994 (39.92 percent)
*Theresa Kriese: 3,275 (38 percent); 2,873 (38.31 percent)
Craig Guymon: 990 (12 percent); 852 (11.36 percent)
Ed Potzler: 933 (11 percent); 780 (10.40 percent)