[Image courtesy of courthouses.co]
Last spring, I wrote about a proposal in Minnehaha County, South Dakota’s largest, to speed up its vote-counting process by allowing the election office to begin tabulating absentee ballots the day before Election Day. In that piece, County Auditor Bob Litz acknowledged that election returns had been “slow” (scare quotes mine) and said he was asking for the extra time so that results would be available sooner.
That proposal evidently didn’t get adopted, and there was another long delay on Election Night 2014 (plus some problems during the day) – so Minnehaha County formed a committee
to review the problem. This week, the committee met to review its recommendations, and while the headlines all noted that Auditor Litz was not “to blame” the substance of the suggestions did identify areas where the County could do better. The Argus Leader has more:
The election review committee’s report should reassure the Minnehaha County Commission and the public that his office takes elections seriously, Litz said.
“I think it cooked down into some pretty good soup,” he said. “I’m certainly going to implement those recommendations to the best of our ability, and I was going to do it anyway.”
One change that is being implemented is creating a procedure manual for elections. The auditor’s office is compiling that already, Litz said, so the committee changes its recommendation from “develop” such a manual to “complete” the guide.
Another recommendation will require the purchase of a folding machine so absentee ballots can be folded properly before being sent out to those who request them.
The issue of a large number of ballots being rejected by the tabulating machines was handled in a resolution that recommended proper programming. The sensitive machines rejected ballots with hesitation marks. The auditor’s office should follow state rules in those cases, said committee member Sue Roust, a former Minnehaha County auditor.
“The rules are there, and it’s very black and white,” she said.
The issues of concern put before the committee involved, “timeliness of the vote tabulation, the performance of the new vote counting machines, and the process for delivering absentee ballots to voters and ensuring absentee voters receive correct ballots for their legislative districts.”
Most of the recommendations looked at the timeliness of the vote tabulation, and they included giving the auditor more room for ballot counting on election night.
That is necessary but may be difficult, Litz said, because space in the county administration building is at a premium.
“Work space is getting gobbled up,” he said. “There are a lot of people with a lot of needs, and elections is one of them.”
Another issue that came up was a conflicting information on voters between county rolls and the Secretary of State. As KSFY noted:
One issue with the 2014 elections was in compiling voter registration information supplied from Minnehaha County to the Secretary of State’s office, wh[ose] computer systems made changes to voters’ records unbeknownst to the county auditor’s office.
Those discrepancies caused many of the frustrations for voters at the polls, such as missing name’s from poll books, or voters receiving the wrong ballot.
The new administration in the Secretary of State’s office has a plan to solve that problem.
Deputy Secretary of State for Election Services Kea Warne said “a report can be produced can be provided to each county auditor when they send over a voter file, that will list what the address field was before, and what it is after.”
In addition, the committee noted the value of committing procedure to a manual:
Committee chairman Bruce Danielson said “by having the county auditor’s office prepare procedures manual on how to handle certain situation, it becomes institutional knowledge in a book, rather than in someone’s memory banks somewhere. That will help a lot.”
Minnehaha County Auditor Bob Litz said “if we’re successful implementing these things, and things, circumstances go well for us on the election, they’re going to help, they’re definitely going to help.”
And finally, it appears that Litz will at last get his wish to start tabulating sooner, as KELOLand reports:
As for the ballots, the committee recommends a few ideas that could improve the process next election. Danielson says the committee recommends scanning absentee ballots before polls close. He says that would have saved workers five hours during the last election.
Even as national headlines focus on big disputes about voting rights or big changes in Oregon (more on those soon), Minnehaha’s experience – where public officials work together to address emerging or persistent probelms – is the real day-to-day work of election administration. Kudos to the County for wading into the weeds and working together to make voting work. [I’m stealing that “soup” line, too.]
Stay tuned …