Voters Defeat Hand-Counting Measures In South Dakota, But Others Might Come In Future

Voters in three small South Dakota counties on Tuesday rejected initiated measures to require hand-counting of ballots in future elections.

The votes in Gregory, Haakon and Tripp counties were an unusual step even as other places in the U.S. have considered moving to hand-counting in the wake of former President Donald Trump's claims of 2020 election fraud.

The measures sought to prohibit the use of tabulating machines and would require hand-counting, which local election officials said would cost more money and require more election workers, who might be difficult to find. Election experts say counting ballots by hand isn't as accurate as machines tabulating the votes.

The measures might not be the only ones put to a vote in South Dakota. Citizens in dozens of other counties are circulating petitions for hand-counting measures, according to Jessica Pollema, president of SD Canvassing, a group which supports the efforts. Other hand-count initiatives could “possibly” appear on November ballots, she said. Pollema did not immediately respond to a phone message or email for comment on the election results.

Todd and Tripp County Auditor Barb DeSersa, who opposed the measure, said, “Well, obviously, the voters have spoken, but I feel that they believe ... we'd be going backwards in time and there is confidence in the machine. There was no reason not to have confidence.”

Turnout in Tripp County was 37%, which is typical for a primary election, she said. The three rural counties have a combined 7,744 active registered voters, according to an online report.

South Dakota's primary election will be the first to undergo a post-election audit, a new process from a 2023 law that requires all counties to hand-count the results from two races in 5% of precincts to compare with the official results. But Tripp County will hand-count the whole election for its audit, per the county commission, DeSersa said. In 2022, Tripp hand-counted its general election ballots.

Fall River County hand-counted its primary election ballots, after the county commission voted earlier this year to do so. County Auditor Sue Ganje said it took about 40 election workers over six hours to hand-count 1,913 ballots.