State election-assistance board approves grants to two counties

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PIERRE—Two of South Dakota's 66 counties applied this year for additional federal aid from the Help America Vote Act program.

The state HAVA grant board approved $9,000 apiece Thursday for Dewey County and Sully County.

Dewey County plans to use the money to help pay for an absentee-voting center.

Brandon Johnson, whose final day as state HAVA coordinator was Thursday, said he presumed the center would be in Eagle Butte, based on previous elections.

Sully County plans to use its grant money for maintenance of voting equipment. The county will be reimbursed as receipts are presented.

Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and members of her staff oversee the HAVA grant program for South Dakota. Johnson said the deadline was July 1 for counties to seek HAVA help for the 2016 election cycle.

"I can definitely see in 2017 a lot more," he said, noting that many counties are getting "quite low" in their HAVA accounts.

An April accounting of HAVA funding in South Dakota showed counties held a total of more than $2.5 million in their accounts, and the secretary of state held nearly $7 million.

Krebs created the state grant board to oversee future distributions to counties as needed.

Congress established the HAVA program in 2002 after difficulties in various states during the 2000 presidential election. States received several rounds of HAVA aid. South Dakota last received $350,000 in 2010.

Johnson urged that South Dakota should be as conservative as possible regarding HAVA funds because more HAVA aid isn't likely from the federal government in the future.

Bret Healy, representing Four Directions Inc., praised the HAVA board, Krebs and other election officials for the Dewey County decision and for the HAVA state plan.

Healy and Four Directions have been advocates for absentee-voting centers in rural areas that have high populations of American Indian people and are far from county courthouses.

A legal dispute has lasted several years regarding Jackson County. The previous secretary of state, Jason Gant, opposed using HAVA funds for such a satellite-voting center there.

Several other counties have the absentee-ballot centers, including Todd and Oglala Lakota (formerly Shannon) counties that don't have courthouses and rely on election services of neighboring counties.

Johnson has been HAVA coordinator for four-plus years. He has accepted a private-sector job with a voting technology company. He thanked the HAVA board members Thursday for their work.

"It certainly was not an easy problem to solve. It needed some due diligence," he said regarding satellite locations and HAVA funds.

He said Kristen Kellar is a good successor. She moves into the HAVA post from her past duties as elections coordinator.

Rachel Schmidt, who has staffed the front desk for the secretary of state office, is the new elections coordinator.

Their direct supervisor is deputy secretary of state for elections, Kea Warne.

Krebs, a Republican and former state legislator, decided in summer 2013 to run for the office before Gant, a Republican and former state legislator, had decided whether to seek a second term. Gant ultimately declined to run.

Krebs brought back Warne, a past elections supervisor who had left the office upon Gant's election in 2010, and added Kellar and Schmidt upon taking office this year.