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UPDATE: Gant won't seek second term

Then-candidate Jason Gant is seen here in an August 2010 debate with opponent Ben Nesselhuf at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Wednesday, Gant announced he will not seek a second term as the state's top elections official. (Daily Republic file photo)

The state's top elections official has announced he will not seek a second term.

In a letter to the editor received Wednesday by The Daily Republic, Secretary of State Jason Gant said he plans to return to the private sector after his current term is up at the end of 2014, rather than run for re-election in the November 2014 general election. Gant, a Republican, took office in 2011.

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"I am far from perfect, but I have always tried to do my best to serve the people of South Dakota well," he said. "Tremendous improvements have been made in the secretary of state's office, with more to come. I may not be seeking another term; however, my drive and determination are as strong as ever."

Gant, a Geddes native, served in the state Senate from 2004 to 2010. He beat Democratic candidate Ben Nesselhuf in the 2010 general election to become secretary of state. Gant succeeded Republican Chris Nelson, who could not seek re-election because of term limits.

Gant has been beset by several controversies in his time in office. Most recently, an advocacy group for American Indian voting rights filed a complaint earlier this month with the Department of Justice after Gant refused to install early voting offices in Fort Thompson, Eagle Butte and Wanblee.

In the run-up to the November 2012 general election, a judge ordered Gant to reprint voter pamphlets after he failed to include opposing statements with information on four proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Gant was criticized by members of his own party for endorsing former Republican Rep. Val Rausch in a primary election for a state Senate seat in 2012. Rausch lost the primary to incumbent Sen. Tim Begalka, R-Clear Lake, who was re-elected in November.

Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, called for Gant's impeachment and asked the Attorney General's Office to investigate Gant's office last summer after it was learned Pat Powers, then Gant's chief deputy, had been running an online business that sold campaign materials, such as yard signs and bumper stickers. Powers resigned, but the investigation by the Attorney General's Office uncovered no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Gant did not specifically address any of the controversies in his letter.

A top Democratic official offered a critical assessment of Gant's service.

"South Dakota Republicans have overseen an unprecedented level of partisanship and voter suppression in the secretary of state's office that indeed has badly damaged the integrity of the office and the public's trust in Republican leadership," said Zach Crago, interim executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party, in a written statement released Wednesday. "Democrats and common sense Republicans alike believe it's time for a clean break."

In a letter sent recently to Republican delegates in South Dakota, state Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, expressed interest in replacing Gant.

"The integrity of the secretary of state's office has been damaged and much of the public have lost faith in it," she said in the letter. "I believe it's time for a change and I am considering the nomination for secretary of state."

In his letter, Gant said he has been a vocal proponent of open government by making more records available online and increasing the transparency of campaign finances. When he was a legislator, he won the Eagle Award, given by the South Dakota Newspaper Association to a person who has worked for government transparency.

"I have met and exceeded my goals and am confident that the next secretary of state will inherit a government agency that is at the forefront of technology," he said.

Gant said his proudest accomplishment as secretary of state was the creation and implementation of vote centers, which keep a digital database of registered voters so they're no longer limited to a specific polling place.

"This revolutionary change to our election system is breaking down barriers, while cutting costs," he said. "Creating the opportunity for people to vote anywhere allows for greater participation in our democratic process while increasing the security of our ballot."

Gant's oversight of elections brought him to Mitchell last year after a botched Davison County election. Following the reporting of inaccurate vote totals by the county Auditor's Office, Gant convened a task force that found human error in operating a vote-counting machine was to blame. He said the task force report would be sent to other auditors to establish best practices for the machines.

Before his term ends, Gant said he plans to release an elections app for smartphones or tablets, launch a new military voting system and continue to promote South Dakota as open for business.

"My mission is clear and my focus is on target to continue to serve South Dakota," he said.