Editorial Roundup: South Dakota

Yankton Press & Dakotan. November 28, 2022.

Editorial: Questionable Changes In SD Vote Counting

To the best of our knowledge, there have never been any serious questions raised about the South Dakota election process in general.

And yet, Secretary of State-elect Monae Johnson is apparently determined to make some crucial systemic changes in this arena that may cause more problems than they seem to address.

Johnson was tabbed as the Republican nominee for the post, ousting incumbent Secretary of State Steve Barnett at the party convention last June, by promoting her vow to secure the state’s elections from possible fraud and hacking. This echoes the viewpoints of those who deny the validity of the 2020 presidential election, and this prompted calls that Johnson was an election denier. During her successful fall campaign, she was evasive on this topic, and in an interview for a South Dakota Searchlight story published in Friday’s Press & Dakotan, she put the issue of the 2020 election off-limits. That would seem to suggest an answer to a straightforward question, as does her agenda for “securing” state elections.

According to the Searchlight story, she wants her office to push for county auditors to do hand counts of all ballots and may ask lawmakers to consider barring the use of tabulator machines, which would not only slow the vote counting dramatically but also be prone to less accurate results, according to veteran election officials.

“You’d never get an accurate count (with a hand count),” said Julie Pearson, a former Pennington County auditor who helped with the transition from hand-counted ballots to tabulation. “Plus, the time. Our scanners, I think, run 200 ballots a minute.”

This was indicated in Tripp County, which went to hand-counting this election. Some races needed recounts, and the ensuing process was described by Tripp County Auditor Barb Desersa as a “nightmare.” Ultimately, a mismatch of votes that did occur in one audit were accounted for by a voter tabulation machine.

“(I) guarantee you 99.9% of the time your machine count is more accurate than a hand count is ever going to be,” Pearson noted. “They’re gonna lose track of where they’re at. And when all you’re doing is doing little sticks (to keep count), you know, one two, three four five, how do you not lose track of where you’re at?”

Also, Johnson wants to pull back from such things as online voter registration, which Barnett advocated and which many other states are pursuing.

What all this suggests is an agenda that, we fear, will push this state backward in terms of vote tabulation and a timely reporting of results. (There is an irony in the latter in that some national politicians are demanding that all election results be known on election night. These changes would guarantee that would never come close to happening.)

It’s possible to use technology to aid in counting votes as well as make it more convenient for voters to register or to change their registration information. Resisting that approach would be counterproductive and set this state’s voting process back a couple decades.