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Voters wait to check in on June 5 before voting at Southwest Middle School. Polling places across Rapid City experienced delays because electronic poll books were not working. 

Newly proposed state legislation would implement a safeguard against the voter check-in problems that afflicted Pennington and other counties during last June’s primary election.

The legislation is House Bill 1027, which was filed Jan. 6 by the House Committee on Local Government at the request of the state Board of Elections.

If passed into law, the bill would require county auditors to provide paper voter-registration lists and bound paper poll books as backups at polling places where electronic poll books are used.

The legislation aims to avoid a repeat of the problems that the Secretary of State’s Office said were encountered during the June 5 primary election in Pennington and seven other counties: Brookings, Brown, Hughes, Hyde, Potter, Sully and Yankton.

Those counties were all using e-poll books supplied by a private vendor, rather than paper poll books, to check voters in. Poll books contain information for election workers, such as whether a voter is registered, what party the voter belongs to, and the voter’s assigned precinct.

On the morning of the primary election, when the e-poll books were turned on in the eight counties, the load was too high and the vendor’s central server crashed.

The impact of the problem varied by county. Some counties switched quickly to paper backups, and others got their e-poll books back online quickly with the vendor’s help.

In Pennington County, there were no paper backups at the polling places; some voters who showed up shortly after the polling places opened at 7 a.m. were told to leave and come back later.

Eventually, printed poll books were brought to the affected Pennington County polling places, and the hours of the affected polling places were extended later into the evening.

House Bill 1027 aims to avoid such problems by requiring paper backups to be on hand, thus allowing election workers to go directly to the paper backups rather than turning voters away when e-poll books malfunction.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal and author of "Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills."