I read with interest and concern postings from Mr. Ehrisman and Ms. Holsen on the controversy over City Councillor Sue Aguilar delivering ballots to polling places that ran short in Tuesday's municipal and school board elections. Still learning a new voting system that has consolidated 57 precincts into 12 voting centers and uses electronic poll books to allow citizens to vote at any polling place they choose rather than having to go their neighborhood polling center, City Clerk Lorie Hogstad somehow managed to not to provide enough ballots to several voting centers. The ballot shortages arose even though Hogstad says the 14% voter turnout was perfectly normal and predictable.
Compounding her pretty poor planning, Hogstad had to accept help from elected officials to help deliver ballots:
Hogstad says when she alerted council leadership, Sue Aguilar and Michelle Erpenbach, Aguilar volunteered to help. It's an offer the clerk's office took her up on.
"Secretary of State Jason Gant even went out with his staff and other people in our office making deliveries," Hogstad said.
And Hogstad says after she told her bosses about the problems, Aguilar offered to help.
"I've been an advocate for years of making the voting process as accessible to citizens as possible so volunteering to help on Tuesday just went along with my belief system," Aguilar said.
Aguilar said she was dispatched to deliver blank ballots to both Whittier Middle School and Lincoln High School. She also went to Harvey Dunn to deliver tape for the machines.
"I didn't have any contact with any of the marked ballots, the ballot boxes, or did I talk to any of the voters or any of that," said Aguilar.
"She did pick up unmarked ballots that were still banded from the superintendent of a particular polling place, just as I did," Hogstad said.
Had I been in Sioux Falls, I'd have loved to have gotten a picture of Secretary Gant running up the sidewalk with a bundle of ballots under each arm. And I wouldn't have had a problem with the Secretary of State's sweaty involvement in ballot delivery, either: making sure every person gets to vote is his primary job.
Delivering ballots isn't Councillor Aguilar's job, but she was just trying to help. She was trying to prevent Hogstad's lack of planning from disenfranchising any more voters. And I can find no statutory basis on which to criticize Councillor Aguilar's involvement.
What puzzles me is why Hogstad involved any city councillors on Election Day. As city clerk, Hogstad is the election boss. Her office exists specifically because we don't want any city council members, whether they are on the ballot or not, making decisions on Election Day that affect who gets ballots. She doesn't have to turn to city council members to say, "Gee, boss, they're out of ballots over at Primrose. What do I do?"
You know what to do, chief: you break out the contingency plan that you wrote up and briefed your staff on weeks before the election. Instead of jawboning councillors, you speed-dial every precinct chief and identify who's running low (not out, but low, some pre-established minimum) and who's got extras. Instead of asking for volunteers, you then step out your office door and say to your on-alert staff, "You, you, and you, you're hauling ballots. Go."
Hogstad apparently had no such plan. And that's the real problem. Who touched the ballots is much less of an issue than who didn't touch ballots: the citizens would couldn't wait any longer and had to leave polling places without voting. An election official, especially one with Hogstad's touted familiarity with the office, should be ashamed of a failure like that. If Hogstad can't handle the new job, she might want to consider handing it over to someone who can.