Auditor’s plan to put ballot drop boxes at county libraries nixed

By: 
Dave Baumeister, County correspondent
SIOUX FALLS – While the general agenda was brief, well over half of the 44-minute Minnehaha County Commission meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 18, was consumed by public comments, which ran the gamut from ballots to bike trails.
 
To help deal with an anticipated plethora of absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 general election, and to also address any fears people may have about the post office, County Auditor Bob Litz told commissioners of his plan to place 15 ballot “drop boxes” around the county at all of the Siouxland Libraries and the municipal library at Dell Rapids.
 
Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken, however, has denied a request by the county auditor’s office to place drop boxes at five of the Siouxland Libraries branches in the city. Although Siouxland Libraries is a joint venture between the city and the county, the Downtown Library and its four branch libraries in Sioux Falls are under the city’s jurisdiction.
 
Citing security reasons for denying the request, TenHaken hasn’t ruled out the idea completely, saying it could be explored for future elections.
 
As an example of what Litz’s office had in store, he said that as early as Sept. 18, over 21,000 ballots would be sent out in the mail. When South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett sent absentee ballot requests to every registered voter last spring, there were boxes that could be checked dealing with which elections a person wanted ballots for and many of the voters who requested absentee ballots for the primary elections also requested general election ballots be sent to them when they became available.
 
Litz said he contacted Barnett’s office about the drop boxes, as well as officials from all around the county, who approved of this method for collecting ballots. 
 
He also told commissioners he was addressing potential security issues with the state’s attorney’s office.
 
Other areas of the country are also considering similar collection methods. On the national level, a CNN article reported that President Donald Trump recently “tweeted” that drop boxes could lead to voter fraud, even though he cited no proof backing up his claim.
 
A claim with which the South Dakota Secretary of State and the Minnehaha County Auditor, both Republicans, seem to disagree.
 
Prior to City Hall denying the request, the topic was scheduled to be on the commission’s agenda this week, as it was not an official Aug. 18 agenda item.
 
 
No WL bike trail!
 
The remainder of last week’s meeting focused on residents voicing their concerns against a proposed biking/walking trail around Wall Lake.
 
Over the past year, meetings were held about a paved trail that would go four miles around the lake from SD Highway 42 to Co. Road 151 to CR 146 to 462nd Ave.
 
When they began, a group of residents started a 501(3)(c) nonprofit organization called the Friends of Wall Lake.
 
In January of this year, they asked the county to attach its name to the project for the purpose of having a local government body involved for grant applications and fund raising, as was reported at that time.
 
However, when the county agreed to this, there was no talk of county approval or non-approval of the project, and was not tied to providing any funding.
 
Commissioners Jean Bender and Dean Karsky took the unique position of speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting to clarify their position.
 
In fact, they said, not only had the county not approved anything dealing with this trail, the topic has never been agenda item or plans made to discuss this since it was originally brought forward in 2019.
 
Still, at Tuesday’s meeting, people spoke as if the commission was involved in the project, even though commissioners said the matter had never come up.
 
Had anything been done to the level those who spoke were suggesting, it would have to be on record, and no such records of the commission discussing it, let alone taking any kind of action, have ever been published.
 
Those who spoke against the trail continually referred to 70 percent of the residents not wanting it.
 
A letter signed by Margaret Bevier, 46271 Wall Lake Place, refers to people responding to a survey by either “returning a postcard, signing a petition or calling me directly to cast their vote.”
 
But there was no explanation of exactly what was asked, how it was asked or the ages of who it was asked of in regard to the survey results.
 
The list that Bevier gave to commissioners had several names with attached addresses, but there was nothing stating their ages, or whether or not one person was answering for everyone at those addresses.
 
Again, as this was during public comment, so no action was taken.
 
The Minnehaha County Commission meets at 9 a.m. Tuesdays on the second floor of the county administration building at Sixth and Minnesota in Sioux Falls. All meetings are open to the public, and public comment is always encouraged. Also, those wishing to watch the meeting live can do so via the Internet at www.minnehahacounty.org/live.

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