State plans to study vote problems in Davison CountySecretary of State Jason Gant names 4 auditors to panel that will meet Friday.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
In the wake of the troubled June 5 primary election, the Davison County election process is under review by state government.
Secretary of State Jason Gant will lead a task force that will meet Friday at the Davison County Courthouse to look into the election and examine how ballots are counted here.
“I want the public to understand the counting machines in Davison County are top-notch, just like the counting machines in Sioux Falls,” Gant said.
He will team with four county auditors to investigate the election. Gant will work with Beadle County Auditor Jill Hanson, McCook County Auditor Geralyn Sherman, Turner County Auditor Sheila Hagemann and Yankton County Auditor Paula Jones.
They will hear presentations from Davison County Auditor Susan Kiepke, and officials from ES&S, the company that manufactures the Model 650 Central Ballot Counter that was used during the election.
On Friday, some June 5 primary sample ballots from randomly selected Davison County precincts will be scanned two to three times at the courthouse in Mitchell to demonstrate scanner accuracy, according to a release from Gant’s office.
The sample ballots will then be run through Minnehaha County’s Model 650 Central Ballot Counter at 2 p.m. at the Minnehaha County Administration Building in Sioux Falls.
After the results are verified and compared, the ballots will be resealed in an official ballot box and returned to Davison County, according to Gant. A final report will be prepared and distributed by Sept. 14.
He said only sample ballots will be counted Friday. The June 5 ballots are sealed under court order after a lawsuit was filed by a school board candidate, Gant said.
“Those ballots cannot be touched,” he said.
Gant said he has two goals: To ensure confidence in the counting of the ballots and establish exactly how the counting process should be performed.
He said counties across the state use either the 650 or an M100 vote counter and he has no doubt they correctly tabulate the totals. Gant said he hopes the totals Friday are identical in both counts.
“If the outcomes aren’t what we are expecting, we will go to the next stage,” he said.
Friday’s task force effort is the “next stage” in an election that at first seemed to go off without a hitch almost three months ago.
There was apparently no problem with the ballots on Election Night and Kiepke had released all results before 9 p.m. on June 5.
The Mitchell mayor’s office, two Mitchell school board seats, a Republican state Senate nomination, a GOP county treasurer’s nomination and a ballot question on one-way streets in the city were all on the ballot.
None of the races were particularly close, but there was a fairly large difference in vote totals in some of the races.
The next day, with The Daily Republic and school board candidate Craig Guymon among those raising questions about irregularities in some of the numbers, Kiepke announced there was a problem.
She said a recount, a term election officials do not like using, would be needed. Kiepke preferred saying there would be a “continuation” of the count.
On June 7, the votes were recounted with several of the candidates sitting at the courthouse observing the procedure.
After nine hours, Kiepke released new figures which she said where accurate. All the vote totals were changed, but none of the election outcomes did.
On Wednesday, Kiepke said she now feels a combination of human error and machine malfunction caused the problems on Election Night.
“I believe the final numbers from the primary election were reported accurately, I do believe that,” she said. “I’m not 100 percent confident in our M650.”
Guymon said he was alerted to the task force by his lawyer, Sam Khoroosi, in Sioux Falls. Guymon has a lawsuit in district court over the election. He has said he does not think his suit will change the outcome of the election, but he wants to ensure the numbers are accurate.
Gant said the lawsuit, which is still pending, was not a factor in his decision to set up the task force.
“This was always in the plans,” he said. “I would hope the lawsuit would be over by now, but it’s not. I want to establish best practices that we can share with other auditors across the state.”
Guymon said he was gratified to see the concerns he raised after the election are being taken seriously.
“It didn’t add up when the first ones came out,” Guymon said. “I’m not that bright of a guy, but I can add.”
Ken Tracy led the six-candidate field for mayor in the initial count and in the recount on June 7.
“I would welcome the investigation, if that is what you would call it, into the incident or whatever happened,” Mayor Tracy said. “I’ve never been told what caused the malfunction or whatever it was.”
Tracy said it would be a “relief” to determine what caused the problem and a good thing to correct it if needed.
Kiepke said she learned Monday the task force was coming to the courthouse. She said she thought it was a closed event and the media and public would not be notified, but is ready to see this issue put to rest.
“I have mixed feelings,” Kiepke said. “Friday doesn’t work out very well for my office, since I will be short-staffed. But if we can get to the bottom of it I will be glad.”