Editorial Roundup: South Dakota

Yankton Press & Dakotan. June 3, 2024.

Editorial: Hand-Counting Ballots Is Not The Path Forward

There are numerous moving parts involved in conducting an election, with the actual act of voting being just a small (albeit the most essential) component of the scenario. The process also includes tabulating votes in a timely and accurate manner, and those tabulations must be safeguarded to avoid tampering.

That latter aspect is behind an effort in some places across this state and the nation to return to hand-counting votes rather than relying on tabulation machines.

But election overseers — such as, for instance, the county auditors across South Dakota who must conduct elections — say the current process of tabulating votes digitally works well, works quickly, is cost effective and is secure.

Last week, South Dakota Board of Elections decided to not approve petitions submitted from activists to go back to hand counting ballots in elections.

Such a retrogression in the process would require more workers to conduct an election — at a time when finding enough people to work during elections (or anything else) is already difficult — and add significant costs to the process.

The concerns about election integrity hail in part from the 2020 presidential election, during and after which now-former President Donald Trump and some supporters claimed, without evidence, that there was massive election fraud, according to South Dakota Searchlight. One culprit pointed to was the possibility of electronic vote-tabulating software being hacked or manipulated to change the outcome.

However, county auditors have assured the public that electronic tabulation is secure.

Meanwhile, three South Dakota counties — Gregory, Haakon and Tripp — will be voting today (Tuesday) on measures to ban the use of tabulator machines and permit only hand counting of ballots. Petitions for similar efforts were circulated in more than 30 other South Dakota counties.

Such a switch could sow needless chaos in the election process and fuel the very perceptions it is intended to address.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin reported last year that voter tabulation machines “are proven to produce faster, more accurate election results. Hand counts of ballots, especially with multiple races, can take weeks to complete. By contrast, the speed and accuracy of tabulators, and thus election results, help bolster voter confidence.” Also, the manual post-election audits of the results confirmed a high degree of accuracy.

The non-profit group Voting Rights Lab echoed the findings, reporting recently that hand counting can “lead to higher error rates in vote counts and heighten voter concern over corruption. The secure tabulation equipment currently used by states provides a quicker and more accurate result than hand counts.”

In South Dakota, auditors have worked to educate voters “on the election process, including the accuracy and safety of tabulators, and highlighting the potential financial consequences of hand-counting ballots,” Searchlight reported.

One irony in all this is the past demands by some that the results of an election should be known on election night. (Recall Trump’s 2020 election night tweets calling on officials to “stop the count” as ballots in every state continued to be processed.) That instant outcome cannot be guaranteed even with electronic voting. Hand counting would make the wait even longer — much, much longer, in some cases.

Certainly, election security is important, and vigilance must aways be maintained. County auditors are the first to point that out.

However, shifting back to hand counting would turn the vote-tabulating process into a slow, expensive and less accurate headache, and it would undercut, not restore, voter faith in this process.