SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Online voter registration, ballot counting and the election process were discussed in length during Tuesday’s Minnehaha County Commission meeting.
Last week, Minnehaha County Auditor Ben Kyte worked his first election while assisting the City of Sioux Falls in its mayoral and city council member elections. Kyte gave a presentation to the commissioners about how his office has worked since he took over from Bob Litz in January 2021.
Kyte noted the auditor’s office is most known for running elections, but highlighted how his office also handles the accounts payable for the county, payroll, liens, capital assets accounting and acts as the controller/accounting budget.
In 2022, Kyte said Minnehaha County added more than 1,000 new voters and has just over 126,000 active registered voters. He told commissioners he’s realized the amount of volume the election process brings to his office and the growing population may warrant another hire for his office to help with elections.
“We don’t allow people to do anything online,” Kyte said about the election process. “It has to be some sort of paper that is sent to our office. For us to keep up with that volume, we might need more people to keep up with that.”
He said his office removes registered voters who have died on a daily basis from official coroner reports. He added voters who commit felonies are flagged and pointed out state law doesn’t require people to update their voter registration address if they move.
“There’s a lot of good reasons for that,” Kyte said. “All of us know many people who may be registered to vote in Sioux Falls but live somewhere else six months of the year.”
However, Kyte told commissioners it should be easier for people to update their voter registration, including change of address. Kyte said he supports online voter registration and said South Dakota is one of only a few states that doesn’t allow online voter registration.
“We need to work with our legislators to make those changes,” Kyte said.
A bill in 2021 supported by Secretary of State Steve Barnett would have allowed voters the ability to update voter registrations online and register to vote online. It failed in a House committee. The full House of Representatives last year also defeated an appropriation to purchase an online voter-registration system.
A similar bill in 2022 failed in the same House committee.
Explaining the ballot counting process
Commissioner Jean Bender said she heard concerns about the tabulating machines being connected to the internet and they could be hacked.
Kyte said the tabulating machines, which count the physical ballots, are not connected to the internet and all they do is count ballots. Kyte said once the results are completed by the machine, the results are downloaded to a USB drive, which is then plugged into a specific laptop computer not connected to the internet.
“You have to have certain cards in it just to turn it on,” Kyte said of the computer that gets the election results. “It’s highly secure and it has software that will create a report for the results.”
After the results are formulated, Kyte said the results are then saved to another flash drive that will be uploaded to another computer, which is connected to the internet to send to the Secretary of State’s office.
“There isn’t any way for anybody to hack this,” Kyte said.
Another commissioner asked Kyte about possibly counting ballots by hand instead of using the machines.
Kyte said Minnehaha County is approaching 100,000 votes in a general election and if there were 10 questions that’d be one million different responses to be counted.
“Humans can’t do that,” Kyte said.
Kyte said machines are more accurate than people who would hand count ballots. He estimated he’d need to hire hundreds, maybe even thousands of more people.
“You remove the probability of fraud by using automation rather than having more people involved,” Kyte said.
Commissioner Gerald Beninga said the $400,000 the county spent on elections was used to buy equipment.
“We paid for them, but we got grants for them from the state,” Beninga said.
Protecting the election process
Kyte said people’s lives are complicated and voting needs to be accessible for people. He said that’s what absentee voting allows and he highlighted the rules for the absentee voting process, which allows people to vote in-person early or request a mailed ballot.
An Absentee Board helps open absentee ballots and organize them to be counted separate from Election Day ballots.
Kyte said his office is always looking for extra help with elections and called on elected officials to support the election process.
“It’s the responsibility of us as elected officials to create trust in the election process and speak up against any disinformation,” Kyte said. “There seems to be a strong movement out there to create the appearance of impropriety.”
He said there’s people who want to cast doubt on the election process in any possible way.
Sioux Falls city clerk Tom Grecco spoke to the commissioners about the election process. He said the absentee ballot counting process has gotten better after changes were made in 2020.
“I think you’ll find it leaps and bounds better than what you’ve seen prior,” Grecco said.
He said the counting process for the city election was organized and well-run.
“I think it went very well and it was very detail oriented,” Grecco said.
Grecco said the technology used for elections is phenomenal and worth the price tag.
“If you want to go to hand counting, remember you will be using folks that have been up since 5 in the morning counting those ballots,” Grecco said. “They are tested very rigorously. We have a great process in place.”
Grecco said the ballots were counted by 10 p.m. for the city election, but there’ll be more ballots for the primary and general elections.