CNCounty News

Rural county elections staff face harassment, misinformation


As a county auditor in South Dakota, I have been running elections for about 17 years. 

Election officials in South Dakota are elected as county auditors or finance officers, but as you can see, election official isn’t in our title. 

A few of the larger counties may have dedicated staff for elections, but in most counties, auditors, finance officers and staff wear many hats and ultimately, the auditor or finance officer is fully responsible for the administration of elections.

When I started administering elections, I was able to use schools for polling places. I am no longer able to do so due to security concerns. 

I used to have more precincts with five poll workers at each precinct. I have cut down on precincts, polling places and now only have three poll workers at each precinct, primarily due to security concerns.

Security has become a major concern for election officials all over the country. There is so much misinformation and disinformation being generated and circulated these days that in my county of 20,000, I have asked our sheriff to be present at each commission meeting in 2024. 

I never know when folks will show up to try to convince our commissioners that the DS850 scanner and tabulator that we use to count ballots has a microchip in it that feeds information to Russia. 

We have to dispel other misinformation. It has been alleged that CVRs (Cast Vote Records), as well as audit logs aren’t proprietary, which they currently are in South Dakota. 

We’ve been accused of not being bonded properly, not being insured properly, not being transparent. 

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The people who come in aren’t always calm, hence the request for security.

For the first time since running elections, I have requested security be posted at all polling places from 6 a.m. until approximately 8 p.m. or whenever the last poll worker leaves the polling place. I have also requested to have security at the courthouse where ballots are counted the evenings of the 2024 elections. 

However, this potentially presents a problem for counties in rural America, as there are only so many law enforcement officers available. If there is an emergency, there may not be security available.

I hate that elections have gotten so negative. I used to look forward to them. They were fun and people were happy. Now people come to my office and verbally attack myself and my staff.

The good news in all of this is election officials who haven’t bought into the misinformation, have bonded together. In South Dakota, we rely heavily on one another to testify in front of legislatures, to lean on one another when we are scrutinized and to embrace one another’s strengths. 

We believe strongly that our elections are run with integrity, honesty, professionalism, knowledge and transparency.

We have wonderful people across our country who step up to serve as poll workers, resolution board members and post-election audit board members. 

I have met many election officials for both rural and urban areas. I believe people serve as election officials because we care about the process, and we care about our constituents. 

The majority of people are kind and good-hearted and believe in our election process. 

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