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County auditor prepares for busy Election Day
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County auditor prepares for busy Election Day

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Voters across the country are concerned about delays in final voting totals with a record high of early voting ballots cast.

Pennington County voters have already cast more than 28,000 absentee ballots, which is over half of the total 48,665 ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election when 19,523 early votes were cast. However, state law prevents county auditors from counting ballots until the polls close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

Secretary of State Steve Barnett said recently that all counties should be done counting ballots on Election Day night, with the possible exception of Minnehaha County which had 121,448 registered voters on Oct. 1. Pennington County had 79,048 registered voters on Oct. 1.

Pennington County Auditor Cindy Mohler hopes her office will have Election Day results by 11 p.m. and that early votes will be uploaded as soon as they're counted that night.

The Auditor's Office staff and 160 volunteer poll workers will start their day at 6 a.m. to get the polling locations set up and ready for voters. Mohler is prepared for a long and busy day.

“We’ve had so many more mail-in absentees, and I’m assuming we’re going to have more walk-ins than in past years because of the current situation,” she said Wednesday.

As of Monday, the office sent out 23,100 absentee ballots and received 18,700 back. In addition, 10,200 people voted early in person.

Counting ballots

Pennington County has a central count, which means all votes are scanned and tabulated at the Auditor’s Office in downtown Rapid City.

Mohler said her office has three scanners that read the ballots. The absentee ballots will be loaded and tabulated throughout the day Tuesday, but will not be counted until after all the polls are closed.

The ballots are loaded as a stack onto the scanner hopper and run through.

“You can’t load a big enough stack on them to get as many as they say will go through,” Mohler said. “They’re a high speed scanner capable of processing 300 double-sided ballots per minute. They are very fast, but obviously we can’t put 10,000 ballots and scan 300 every minute.”

There are typically teams of two on each scanner to load ballots. Mohler said it helps with the flow since one person can load the ballots onto the hopper and the other removes them.

Volunteers at the precincts will only handle those ballots and turn them in to the Auditor’s Office at the end of the day. Mohler said there are about 160 volunteers for this year’s general election compared to 120 in previous years. The only people allowed in the office to help tabulate the ballots are Auditor’s Office employees.

Mohler said there’s public viewing available in the Board of Commissioners meeting room. A camera is set up in her office and broadcasts downstairs that shows all the scanners.

As ballots are scanned and results from a number of precincts are counted, those results are loaded onto a thumbdrive and loaded into a software that isn’t connected to the internet in any way, Mohler said. From that software, data is loaded onto a another thumbdrive and uploaded to the Secretary of State’s website for the results.

Voters will not be required to wear masks at polling locations, although there will be signs asking people to observe six feet of social distance. Barnett said poll workers across the state have been provided with personal protective equipment and sanitizer.

Mohler said there may be at least one volunteer at polling precincts to sanitize voting booths.

The deadline to register to vote in the general election was Oct. 19, which was also the first day to vote in the Rapid City Ward 1 special election to fill a council seat. The candidates are Tessa LaHaie and former councilor Ron Weifenbach. Mohler said there will be a separate table to vote in the special election in Ward 1 and that there will be a separate ballot.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 3. To check for voter registration information, polling place location and the ballot, visit the Secretary of State’s website.

Offices on the ballot this year are as follows:

Federal

Presidential

Republican — President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence

Libertarian — Jo Jorgensen and Spike Cohen

Democrat — Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris

United States Senator

Republican — Incumbent Sen. Mike Rounds

Democrat — Dan Ahlers

United States Representative

Republican — Incumbent Rep. Dusty Johnson

Libertarian — Randy “Uriah” Luallin

State

Public Utilities Commissioner

Republican — Gary Hanson

Libertarian — Devin Saxon

Democrat — Remi W.B. Bald Eagle

State Senator District 27

Republican — Judd W. Schomp

Democrat — Incumbent Sen. Red Dawn Foster

State Senator District 29

Republican — Incumbent Sen. Gary L. Cammack

Libertarian — Kent Wilsey

State Senator District 30

Republican — Rep. Julie Frye-Mueller

Libertarian — A. Gideon Oakes

State Senator District 32

Republican — Incumbent Sen. Helene Duhamel

Democrat — Michael Calabrese

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State Senator District 33

Republican — Rep. David Johnson

Democrat — Ryan A. Ryder

State Senator District 34

Republican — Rep. Michael G. Diedrick

Democrat — George Nelson

State Senator District 35

Republican — Incumbent Sen. Jessica Castleberry

Independent — Brian Gentry

State Representative District 27

Republican — Liz May

Democrat — Ernest Weston Jr.

Democrat — Incumbent Rep. Peri Pourier

State Representative District 29

Republican — Dean Wink

Republican — Incumbent Rep. Kirk J. Chaffee

Independent — Jade Addison

State Representative District 30

Republican — Trish Ladner

Republican — Incumbent Rep. Tim R. Goodwin

State Representative District 32

Republican — Incumbent Rep. Chris Johnson

Republican — Becky Drury

Democrat — Toni Diamond

Democrat — James Preston

State Representative District 33

Republican — Sen. Phil Jensen

Republican — Incumbent Rep. Taffy Howard

State Representative District 34

Republican — Mike Derby

Republican — Incumbent. Rep. Jess Olson

Democrat — Nick Anderson

Democrat —Rick Stracqualursi

State Representative District 35

Republican — Incumbent Rep. Tina L. Mulally

Republican — Incumbent Rep. Tony Randolph

Democrat — David A. Hubbard

Democrat — Pat Cromwell

Local

Pennington County Commissioner - 4

Republican — Travis Lasseter

Democrat — Karen McGregor

Supreme Court Justice Retention

Justice Steven Jensen

West Dakota Water Development District Director, West Dakota WDD 6

James A. Kammert Sr.

Cheryl Rowe

Alderman Rapid City Ward 1

Tessa LaHaie

Ron Weifenbach

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