SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – The 2024 general election is more than 13 months away, but the topic of future elections sparked public outcry at the Minnehaha County Commission meeting Tuesday morning. 

Minnehaha County’s five commissioners voted unanimously to approve a contract with Election Systems & Software, an Omaha, Nebraska based elections equipment company. The contract for services for the primary and general elections in 2022 was $123,678.64 and commissioners approved another three-year contract with ES&S for ballot layout, coding, voice file services and ballot printing services. 

Minnehaha County Auditor Leah Anderson asked the commission to approve the contract, but pointed out numerous times she is not the governing board of elections in Minnehaha County when it comes to automatic tabulating systems. 

“It puts you as the governing board in authority of deciding how we’re going to conduct our elections in the county,” Anderson said. “While I do love technology and moving into future centuries, with things like the public surplus auction, I also like to be cautious with technology when it comes to something like our elections. As we introduce more technology, I feel like we take away some of the electoral process from the people.”

Anderson said she’d be in favor of Minnehaha County becoming a county with random hand counts at the precinct level along with using tabulators. 

Commission Chair Jean Bender asked Anderson why she was bringing up election processes with the motion to extend a contract with ES&S.  Commissioner Dean Karsky said the water got really muddy regarding the contract with ES&S and Bender said she believed it was intentional by Anderson. 

“You didn’t prepare us to talk about that today. Wasn’t in your memo,” Bender said as she opened the motion to public comment. 

During public comment, more than a dozen people spoke in favor of hand counting ballots, problems with previous elections and wanting Anderson be able to do her job.

Some of the people who spoke were wearing South Dakota Canvassing Group shirts. The South Dakota Canvassing Group calls itself a group of concerned citizens regarding election integrity and the group played a role in convincing Tripp County to hand count ballots for the 2022 election.

The state Board of Elections is holding a public hearing on Sept. 27 regarding proposed rules for post-election audits that now must be conducted for all 66 counties.

Bender said ES&S has been vetted by the South Dakota Secretary of State office and there’s been a lot of public information about how the voting and ballot counting systems work for South Dakota elections. 

Karsky asked Anderson if she’s forfeiting her role as the election officer to the county commission and Anderson said she’s not forfeiting her role as auditor. 

Commissioner Joe Kippley said if Anderson has an affirmative agenda she should bring it up during commission meetings instead of attaching it to a contract extension. 

“We’re paying for a warranty on equipment and we’re paying for election services to print ballots,” Kippley said. “I don’t really appreciate the smuggling in of other issues to what I think is pretty routine.” 

Kippley said if there needs to be a discussion on the method of counting ballots, it should be brought forward in an affirmative way. He pointed out there’s been high profile defamation lawsuits regarding voting machine companies like the nearly $800 million settlement between Fox and Dominion Voting Systems.

“I don’t think we really want to get in the business of defaming ES&S or anyone else for that matter,” Kippley said. “I really don’t have a lot of patience for the nonsense around the election fraud stuff. I’m old enough that I came of age in the 2000 election. There was a sore loser in that election too. Every election in our free society has a losing side and that losing side needs to learn how to lose.”