SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There’s momentum for creating a post-election audit in South Dakota. 

But the details behind what South Dakota’s post-election audit will look like has caused a rift between some county auditors. Senate Bill 160, which would create a post-election audit following the state canvassing of a primary or general election, cruised through the Senate on Monday 34-0.   

SB-160’s fate is now in the hands of the House, where there’s another version of a post-election audit in House Bill 1199. SB-160 would require county auditors to conduct a random, manual county of 5% of the voting precincts in a county for two statewide contests. HB-1199 would require 25% of voting precincts using automatic tabulating or 10% of voting precincts not using automatic tabulators.  

Lincoln County Auditor Sheri Lund said in an interview with KELOLAND News that she is supporting SB-160 because the post-election audit would be for two precincts in Lincoln County instead of eight precincts. 

Lund said county auditors were hoping to study the topic more with the new secretary of state, but she believes many lawmakers are looking to implement changes this summer rather than 2024 when the change would take place in the middle of primary and general elections. 

“We know that something’s gonna come,” Lund said about post-election audits. “It’s unfortunate that this is causing such a divide among the auditors.” 

In Senate committee testimony, Jill Hanson, the Beadle County Auditor, testified in favor of SB-160 but told lawmakers the topic has created division among county auditors. Hanson said there’s a need for the post-election audit to calm election concerns in the public. 

Hanson said county auditors don’t like the idea of counting many ballots by hand, but they don’t like the rhetoric they’ve heard in the past few elections either. 

“We trust our tabulators,” Hanson said. 

Lyman County Auditor Deb Halverson testified against SB-160. Halverson said she is not against a post-election audit, but her concerns involve all the newly elected county auditors and a new secretary of state implementing the audit. 

Halverson also said there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach to a post-election audit because of how different South Dakota’s 66 counties are. 

Hand County Auditor Doug DeBoer told KELOLAND News said South Dakota should be doing a post-election audit and he supports what lawmakers decide the audit looks like. 

“I am prepared for any kind of post-election audit to come down,” DeBoer said. “I don’t feel as an individual auditor, that I should make a stand against the entire Legislature.”

He said he understood some county auditors’ opposition because each county is dealing with different populations and resources. 

Lund isn’t sure there’s a perfect solution for a post-election audit. 

“If we would have had more time, would we have worked something out to where everybody would have been happy? I doubt it, because I don’t think there’s a happy medium,” Lund said. 

Secretary of State’s position 

In opposing public testimony, Tom Deadrick, the deputy secretary of state, said the opposition is soft as it can be. He said newly-elected Secretary of State Monae Johnson is in favor of post-election audits, but she’d need more time to study the topic to bring forward a well-researched bill in front of lawmakers. 

Deadrick said a summer study may bring some changes and lawmakers shouldn’t be surprised to see bills related to the post-election audit next year. 

DeBoer said county auditors were able to speak with Johnson when she was appointed to her position early and she told auditors her thoughts on a post-election audit had changed some. 

“She told us that she didn’t want to rush in and introduce some piece of legislation that didn’t have well-rounded support,” DeBoer said. “Ultimately, the legislators themselves brought bills forward.” 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 41 other states have some sort of post-election tabulation audits. 

Post-election audit cost

A fiscal note from the Legislative Research Council on SB-160 said an estimated cost from Idaho resulted in about $2,900 to each county. 

“Assuming the cost per county in Idaho would match that in South Dakota, as Idaho also requires the review of 5% of a county’s precincts, the State could expect to pay around $15,950 per election,” the note reads. “Every two years, the State could expect to pay $31,900 to the counties.” 

Lund said she believes the post-election audit will be some sort of hardship on counties, no matter what it turns out to be. 

DeBoer said he doesn’t believe cost is a factor because of so many things counties already are required to provide. 

“It’s just another cost that we absorb and we figure out how to make it work,” DeBoer said. 

Republican Sen. David Wheeler, the bill’s prime sponsor in the Senate, told lawmakers the secretary of state’s office would reimburse each county for the cost of post-election audits. 

“I did not want to impose an unfunded mandate upon our counties,” Wheeler said. 

Election-related bills mount 

There’s one thing county auditors are in agreement about – the amount of legislation that will impact how they do their jobs. 

Lund, who has been working in the Lincoln County Auditor’s office since 2014, said she’s been busy trying to follow all of the various election bills as well as property tax legislation. 

“There’s a heavy, heavy election presence this year,” said Lund, who started serving as auditor in 2020. “It’s unfortunate that we don’t have more of a working relationship with legislators that they can come down and talk this out.” 

DeBoer said he’d like to see lawmakers find a way to do more scientific testing of the tabulating machines. 

“If the state’s going to enter into an agreement with Election Systems and Software, the current vendor, then send them to one of the universities or trade schools and say, test this thing,” DeBoer said. “See if you can crack it. Test its vulnerabilities, test its successes, but that hasn’t come up. It solves the bigger issue which is, is it physically possible?”