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State elections office struggling to find records for federal audit

PIERRE -- The mess that Secretary of State Shantel Krebs inherited when she took office in January 2015 is proving troublesome during a federal audit now under way.

PIERRE - The mess that Secretary of State Shantel Krebs inherited when she took office in January 2015 is proving troublesome during a federal audit now under way.

The audit is looking at how South Dakota had used hundreds of thousands of dollars received through the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) program established after the 2000 presidential election.

Documents from the past needed for the audit aren't available in some instances and some past spending is under question whether it was allowable, according to Krebs.

Kristin Gabriel now is the HAVA coordinator on Krebs' staff. Gabriel told state Board of Elections members during a meeting Thursday that HAVA is undergoing an audit that reaches back 13 years to the initial funding period.

"We did our best and provided them what we had and what we could find," Gabriel said.

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She said it is a regularly scheduled audit, but the auditors are working on only half of a dozen states per year.

That's made documentation difficult to find sometimes. Gabriel said the office now is keeping everything related to the HAVA grant and filing it by year and purpose.

The auditors will report their findings to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) that oversees the HAVA program. Gabriel said the secretary of state staff would review those findings and respond to the EAC as well. Then the EAC would issue its final audit report.

Linda Lea Viken, of Rapid City, one of the state board members, asked Krebs what happens if the audit finds that required activities weren't performed.

Krebs said there wasn't a clear answer yet from the EAC.

Another unresolved situation dating from the previous administration of Jason Gant is the overseas voting system for military members, their families and other citizens.

Krebs said the Federal Voting Assistance Program paid for the Gant-era iOASIS program that he rolled into service in March 2014. Krebs shut it down last year.

She said the last submission for payment to the federal agency was denied and her staff is working on it.

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Krebs said the substantiation of iOASIS expenses was questionable and there are questions whether the expenses were allowable.

She said South Dakota received a $648,000 grant for iOasis and 27 military men and women used the program.

Krebs said the office is seeking more documentation for $43,000.

"The state would need to be reimbursed for that," Krebs said.

The cost flabbergasted Viken.

"So we spent $648,000 for 27 people?" she asked Krebs.

"That is correct," Krebs replied.

Krebs explained there was an adequate system in place for overseas voting when Chris Nelson left the office at the end of 2010 because he was term-limited.

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She said the office has now returned to using the Nelson-era system known as UOCAVA.

Kea Warne, deputy secretary of state for elections, said some military members had the special card necessary to access the iOASIS system, but many military members didn't.

She said it also didn't work for most overseas voters who were non-military.

"It was very limited to a group of people in the military," Warne said.

Some higher-level military contractors had the card too, she said.

Warne was among the Nelson-era staff who left when Gant arrived.

Gant declined to seek re-election in 2014 after Krebs, a state senator at the time, declared she would seek the Republican nomination. Both were Republicans.

Another situation Krebs inherited was a $50,000 annual maintenance fee under the Gant-era contract with Everyone Counts Inc., the company that developed the iOASIS system.

Krebs said her office has stopped paying the fee.

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