Voting task force formed to prepare for absentee ballot surge

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - When Minnehaha county voters requested nearly 42,000 absentee ballots for the June 2nd election, it created a record number of ballots, and challenges in processing the 30,235 returned.

Absentee voting increases in South Dakota during pandemic

Even though the general election is not until November plans are underway now to count all those votes in our new normal with voting, including a group being formed by Minnehaha County Auditor Bob Litz to review procedures and recommend new efficiencies. The group may also present their findings to the legislature in hopes of changing regulations.

"The number of absentee ballot requests by mail is going to be a new thing. And, you know, we are going to obviously got to get our arms around it," said Litz.

The growing number of absentee ballots was brought on by the pandemic. Processing the June 2nd ballots took an extra day.

"We had to put them in precinct order because they need to be dropped into the correct precincts for processing. And if we were to start processing the absentees in the order that they came in, we'd have two or three or four from one precinct 10 from another five from another. It would have been a valid management nightmare, so that's why I took the extra day to sort all of them," said Litz.

Many who worked at the polls or tabulation centers stayed home because of COVID concerns, creating staffing issues.

"One precinct one, you know, nobody showed up, except one of the workers and she was brand new so we take care of that," said Litz.

Although election results have been turned around quickly in the past, the President of the League of women voters of South Dakota, Amy Scott-Stoltz, says that may look different going forward.

"The accuracy is more important than the quickness, so I think all voters should be prepared to maybe not have all elections reported on election night but possibly a day or so later because of the increase in absentee ballot voting," said Scott-Stoltz.

There is an upside to more absentee voting.

"Mail-in voting does not have any higher incidence of voter fraud, it does not favor one party over the other and it's one way that it does increase voter participation so in that way it makes a better representative government," said Scott-Stoltz.

The highest number of absentee ballot requests to date was back in 2016, where 18,000 requests were sent in. For this fall's election 25,000 requests for absentee ballots have already come in. That number is expected to grow in the coming months.