PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Minnehaha County voting machines might become the first in South Dakota to have their accuracy checked after an election.
Minnehaha County Auditor Bob Litz won support for his idea Tuesday from a majority of state Board of Elections members.
Litz, who’s on the board, wants Minnehaha County to be a pilot project to see whether the machines are on the mark.
The board voted 5-1 with one abstention to direct South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett and his staff to draft legislation for the board to review in September. Barnett is also a member and voted for the concept.
If a majority of the seven agree in September, the proposal would advance to the Legislature for action in the 2020 session that opens January 14.
Litz said he already has money in his budget for it. One software system he’s considered would cost about $19,000. If possible, he will run the test using the county’s 2018 results before the June 2020 primary elections.
He wants to know how accurate the tallies were. He’ll keep the state board and the 65 other counties informed.
“It would be learning type of experience,” Litz said.
Another board member, Rick Knobe of Sioux Falls, asked why Litz wanted to take on a project that could turn out differently than is hoped.
“I’m willing to do it because I believe in it,” Litz replied. He added, “There are things that happen on these machines that are unexplainable.”
Dozens of other states run what are known as risk-limiting audits on their election systems.
Board member Linda Lea Viken of Rapid City said her concern was that the random sample might be off.
Viken said she likewise worries about a similar sampling process the secretary of state’s staff uses to see whether ballot measures have enough valid signatures.
“It’s just me personally, but I hate those sample things being the end-all be-all,” Viken said.
Litz said an audit would further bolster public confidence in the machine counts and verify the machines functioned properly.
Board member Mike Buckingham of Rapid City asked if there was doubt now that machines weren’t accurate. Buckingham eventually voted against it.
Litz replied, “All this is doing is auditing the machine.” He described it as “a fact-finding mission” that would last two or four years. “Colorado took a decade,” Litz said.
Grant County Auditor Karen Layher, who’s a board member, suggested perhaps a precinct’s results could be tested.
Litz said Mark Meierhenry, a prominent Sioux Falls lawyer and a former South Dakota attorney general, independently conducted a test in Lincoln County from the 2018 election.
Litz invited Viken to represent the state board on his pilot group.
Clay County Auditor Carri Crum, a board member, said she was “pretty confident our machine does a great job” but she also referred to a study that found about one-third of voters didn’t think their votes counted.
Layher cautioned that financially struggling counties could be resistant. “I have confidence our machines are working properly,” she said.
Crum said she liked the idea because it could boost voters’ confidence.
Buckingham said he was concerned about diverting federal election funding to a new purpose, when about 30 counties still need new equipment for the 2020 elections, and about 30 other counties used their shares of federal aid to buy new equipment.
“If it works, he’s going to try to sell it to us,” Viken told Buckingham.
Knobe said he was intrigued but skeptical. “Let’s take a look at a more specific legislative proposal and see where that takes us,” Knobe said.