One South Dakota county will be “hand counting” ballots on Tuesday

November 4, 2022

An election law on the books since 1994 allows county commissions to overrule the county auditor by “experimenting with” a combined hand-counting and tabulated ballot counting system.

That statute allowed the Tripp County Commission in south-central South Dakota to order a hand count for Tuesday’s general election. It also allows the Fall River County Commission to hand count ballots for two of the county’s smallest precincts for three races.

The October decision makes Tripp the first South Dakota county in two decades to hand count election ballots and submit them to the state, said Kea Warne, director of the division of elections in the Secretary of State’s Office.

County auditors assume most responsibilities conducting elections, but codified law 12-17B-3 allows the “governing body” of any election at the school, city or county level to adopt, experiment or abandon automatic tabulating systems approved by the State Board of Elections.

Tripp County Auditor Barb Desersa said the Commission’s choice to exercise that authority has her department “drowning” in an effort to retrain staff and election workers on how to hand count ballots. Had commissioners not opted for a hand count, Desersa would use the state-certified tabulator machines she’s used since she was elected in 2014.

The canvassing group pushed for a hand count at the Oct. 11 Tripp County Commission meeting.  Desersa and commissioners expected to only hear from a couple locals, the auditor said, but the small room was packed with about 30 people from in and outside Tripp County.

County commissioners conferred and unanimously agreed to a combination voting system after hearing the comments. The county will hand count its votes and submit that number to the state once tallied. After that, the auditor will run all votes through the county’s tabulator machine.

It will be a lengthy, intensive and redundant process, Desersa said, but county commissioners felt they needed to “audit” the election process.

“We agreed that we didn’t have a good audit, so nobody knew for sure if all the votes were being tabulated correctly,” said Joyce Kartak, vice chair of the Tripp County Commissioners.

Desersa expects roughly 1,050 ballots from county voters, which will take several hours — potentially days — to count and verify. There are about 3,500 registered voters in the county of 5,624. Desersa also serves as the Todd County auditor, which will still use a tabulator, so her department and volunteers will run another estimated 1,650 ballots on election night for the neighboring county