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Sioux Falls Councillor’s Ballot Deliveries Show City Clerk’s Poor Planning

Last updated on 2013.09.01

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.


  1. Douglas Wiken 2012.04.14

    I am not sure about the legal complications which might be involved, but it would seem that ballots could be printed at the voting stations via some variety of internet authorization if sufficient ballots did not exist.

  2. John 2012.04.14

    At several voting locations voters were told to come back later because they were out of ballots. One polling location opened 45 minutes late because one of Gant's employees showed up late and couldn't get the computer booted up.

  3. Mark 2012.04.15

    I'm struck with the 14% voter turnout. I realize that folks tend to become more and more apathetic when it comes to voting, but this certainly must be a record low - despite the SOS-City of SF flexibility and accommodations for voter sites. Now, not having enought ballots...

    I wonder how many of the 86% of nonvoters were indifferent and how many were frustrated?

    Truly disappointing example of civic responsibility and electoral administration. Apparently in South Dakota we don't need to worry about no stinkin voter suppression. We don't care.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.15

    Actually not a record low, Mark: Hogstad said such disappointingly low turnout is normal for non-mayoral election years.

    And 45 minutes late, John? Holy cow! Not cool! Maybe we need merit pay in the Secretary of State's office to motivate better performance.

  5. Roger Elgersma 2012.04.16

    We had a good clerk. Not sure why she got fired. So now we go for the inexperienced. Her pay is probably quite a bit lower, so will she get fired or kept. Probably kept since she was put in by those who fired the other one.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.16

    Doug! Sorry to leave your suggestion hanging. I checked state law: SDCL 12-16-17 says the county auditor can authorize the use of sample ballots or photocopies, but only if the supply of official ballots is "completely exhausted." I'm not sure, but that suggests that one precinct can't start printing its own ballot copies to meet a shortfall until all other precincts have used up their official ballots.

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