SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Did you stand in line to vote in Minnehaha County on Nov. 8?
If you lived in Sioux Falls precinct 214 and voted at Eastside Baptist Church 6101 E. 49th St., there is a good chance you may have waited.
In this precinct and some others, “The lines were longer than would have liked,” said Minnehaha County Auditor Ben Kyte said.
Precinct 214, which has 4,693 active voters had 2,934 ballots cast.
Kyte said precinct 214 needs a review because one voting site may not be able to handle existing voters and any growth in the numbers. Kyte said the office should be looking at other sites in the county as well.
Kyte also pointed to the 411 precinct poll site of Wild Flower Presbyterian Church at 4800 E. 6th St. where 2,014 ballots were cast. The precinct has 3,636 active voters.
The eastern and southeastern part of Sioux Falls is where much of the growth in population has happened. While there is growth in the western and northwestern part of the city, the potential stress on voting precincts is not as great as the east.
“In the northwest side, we don’t see that much just looking… Memorial Middle School has a couple of precincts…,” Kyte said.
Precincts 316 and 310 vote both vote at Memorial at 1401 S. Sertoma Ave. Precinct 316, with 2,857 active voters, had 1,809 votes and precinct 310, with 2,241 active voters, had 1,490 votes for 3,299 votes cast from the two precincts.
Precincts 316 and 310 have a total of 5,098 active votes, which is about 400 more than precinct 214 on the east side.
Overall, the growth and voter numbers “are not like on the east side,” Kyte said.
“The other thing we need to be thinking about is all the growth in the downtown,” Kyte said. “We don’t want to overlook that.”
The growth includes more apartments which means more population and potentially, more voters.
The downtown main library at 200 N. Dakota Ave. is the poll site for precinct 523 and precinct 515. Precinct 515 had 796 voters and precinct 523 had 647 voters. Precinct 523 has 1,501 active voters and precinct 515 has 3,139 active voters.
Wait times and precinct growth are not just a concern in Sioux Falls.
“Even at the Brandon Golf Course,” Kyte said of a possible stress point.
VPO3 at the Brandon Golf Course at 2100 E. Aspen Blvd. had 2,059 voters and it has 3,530 active voters.
“It’s not just Sioux Falls you have to look all over the county,” Kyte said of the possibility of reviewing the adequacy of precincts and voting sites.
Why and when sites change
The 10-year census conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau is a point when governments review voting districts and sites.
“First, we did the redistricting of legislative districts,” Kyte said. “That alone made us really adjust precincts.”
But any bigger changes in the size of precincts or how many voters voted at one site needed to wait.
“We couldn’t do that early enough (in an election year),” Kyte said.
District boundary lines may change about every 10 years but for some communities it may be good review precincts and voting sites every three to four years, said Secretary of State Steve Barnett.
A precinct site that may handle today’s voters may not be able to handle voters in five years, Barnett said.
If a voter has time on a lunch break to vote but sees lines out the door, it may discourage them voting, Barnett said.
“Frequently, after an election like this, you look at voter turnout, the line waits,” Barnett said.
Barnett said the state’s population growth, especially in Sioux Falls and Minnehaha and Lincoln counties, has impacted voting.
“Minnehaha and Lincoln counties are growing so fast, compared to Beadle County,” Barnett said.
“We have more registered voters now,” Barnett said. Counties like Minnehaha have more registered voters but so does the state.
Voter registration in Minnehaha has grown by about 20,000 since 2012. And it would seem the registration growth is in pockets of Sioux Falls.
In 2012, there were 519,200 registered voters in South Dakota, according to the SOS website. There were 597,354 registered voters as of November 2022.
What about a hand count?
Individuals have been at several Minnehaha County board meetings to question the integrity of the 2020 election. The reliability and security of voting tabulation machines are often at the heart of the issue for election doubters.
Barnett said local governments such as county boards can determine if the election is counted by machine or by hand. That’s what happened in Tripp County after commissioners required its auditor to hand count the Nov. 8 election ballots.
He doubts that Minnehaha County would approve hand-counting ballots because of the time, effort, accuracy and cost.
There were 75,570 ballots cast in 75 precincts on November 8.
Barnett said the county would need a “whole slate of workers,” to count 75,000 ballots.
“How much is that going to cost?” Barnett said.
Would workers count in 12-hour shifts, eight hours, or less?
“I have no estimate on how long that would have taken,” Kyte said hand counting 75,570 votes.
But it’s not time that would be troublesome in a hand count, its accuracy, Kyte said.
The shift to voting tabulation machines came with the realization that humans can’t stay focused long enough to count tens of thousands of votes. “You can’t expect people to concentrate long enough,” Kyte said.
“The chance of a hand count being accurate is probably zero,” Kyte said. “I know the machine is going to be accurate.”
“When we are seeing errors, it’s with a hand count,” Barnett said.
Can the county tally votes faster?
Some states use voting tabulation machines at precinct sites. The voter is given a ballot and when the vote is complete, the ballot is placed in the tabulation machine by the voter.
Machines can scan the votes at the site and that information is brought to a centralized counting site such as the auditor’s office. The National Conference of State Legislatures describes an optical/digital scan tabulation as “Ballots are marked by the voter, and may either be scanned on precinct-based optical scan systems in the polling place (“precinct count system”).”
“I’ve thought about that,” Kyte said of the precinct count system.
The precinct count system would require a county to buy machines for each precinct site or at some precinct sites.
When the cost is considered for all 75 precincts in Minnehaha County, “all of a sudden everybody gulps,” Kyte said.
Barnett said a county the size of Minnehaha may want to consider precinct count machines sometime in the future.
“I don’t see the growth slowing down any time soon,” Barnett said. It’s not just Sioux Falls that growing, it’s Harrisburg, Brandon and Tea, for example, he said.
The growth in the county should also prompt the state Legislature to consider another election option, Kyte said.
“The city of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County are getting large enough that the state needs to consider (hiring staff) that (elections) are what they do,” Kyte said.
The cities of Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, have a paid election official, Kyte said. The size of the election and registered voters requires someone with a specific skill set to handle elections, he said.
The election official has a staff and budget. The position also “takes the politics out of it,” Kyte said.
In short, Minnehaha County’s election demands may have outgrown the auditor’s office, Kyte said.
“There is enough to do as county auditor,” Kyte said. The auditor’s office handles financial details of the county budget including distributing taxes to public entities.
“It’s something the state needs to think about,” Kyte said.
And it could be a consideration for Minnehaha and Lincoln County combined, he added.