Human error caused election errorsTask force finds Auditor’s Office ran a precinct twice; machine working fine.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
That’s the early indication of the cause of June 5 ballot miscounts in Davison County, according to members of a Ballot Counting Task Force convened Friday in Mitchell by South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant.
Representatives of the company that made the county’s voting machine said ballots from one precinct were put through the machine twice on Election Night by members of the Davison County Auditor’s Office staff. Both passes through the machine were included in the unofficial results, which inflated the vote totals.
On Election Night when Precinct 8 was counted a second time, the machine was not “zeroed out” before the second run.
Davison County Auditor Susan Kiepke, an elected official, was not a member of Friday’s task force but did speak as part of the agenda.
“I hit zero and I thought I zeroed the machine out,” she said. “One of the problems might have been that I did not zero-out the machine because I did not know the proper way to do it. Ultimately, I discovered that the numbers were incorrect.”
The error was discovered the day after the election as observers including The Daily Republic and unsuccessful school board candidate Craig Guymon raised questions about suspicious-looking numbers. A recount was conducted two days after the election. None of the winners changed, but the inflated vote totals were adjusted downward.
Friday’s task force consisted of four auditors from other counties. Tearfully, Kiepke told her peers that the ordeal was a “learning experience.”
The county’s vote-counting machine, meanwhile, was shown to be in perfect working order Friday.
In test runs at the Davison County Courthouse, the Election Systems & Software M650 ballot-tabulator machine accurately counted ballots from five fictional precincts.
An afternoon recount of the same ballots by another M650 at the Minnehaha County Auditor’s Office produced identical counts.
Voters can be confident that Davison County’s machine is 100 percent accurate, Gant said, adding that the task force achieved its goal of instilling confidence in the state’s voting system.
“We determined that results from the Davison County election are exactly what they should have been, because the Davison County machine worked just as well as the Minnehaha machine.”
The actual June 5 ballots were not used in Friday’s counts because they are sealed pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Guymon. He was not present at the courthouse meeting Friday and has said his suit seeks to ensure accuracy of the vote count, not a change in the results.
Gant said the task force’s aim was two-fold.
“First, we want to ensure confidence in the public that their counting machines are releasing the correct election returns, and second, to make sure we have best practices in place that other auditors can use to make sure their elections run smoothly.”
He said county auditors statewide will be given a preliminary report next week on Friday’s findings. A final report will be ready by mid-September, he said.
For the task force, Gant enlisted the help of Turner County Auditor Sheila Hagemann, Yankton County Auditor Paula Jones, McCook County Auditor Geralyn Sherman and Beadle County Auditor Jill Hanson. All volunteered their time, Gant said, and will only be reimbursed for travel expenses.
Also present was state Interim Director of Elections Sue Roust, ES&S Customer Service Manager Alexia Scott Morrison and ES&S National Field Services Manager Gary Eurek. ES&S is based in Omaha.
Morrison said her company used an M650 audit report to determine that there were procedural steps missed during the Election Night ballot counting procedure.
Eurek explained that Precinct 8 ballots were processed more than once.
“Human intervention put them through a second time,” he said.
It took the auditor team nearly two hours to complete the test counts Friday in Mitchell. Afternoon counts at the Minnehaha County Auditor’s Office went faster, Gant said. At Minnehaha County, the same ballots were run in about an hour.
Following the recount two days after the election, a canvassing board used the new results to certify the June 5 vote. Kiepke said she is confident in the final accuracy of her counts.
Kiepke was asked if she used a “flush card” to clear the machine when she was having problems with the balky precinct. She said she did not.
The other auditors, except Turner County Auditor Hagemann, were equally unfamiliar with the card, which is used to erase a batch of precinct votes without affecting the cumulative vote totals in the M650 ballot counter.
“This all goes back to why we need to put together a collection of best practices,” Gant said. “We need to put procedures in place so that people don’t forget to follow all of the steps.”