Commission OKs 2 absentee ballot boxes on county properties

By: 
Dave Baumeister, County correspondent
SIOUX FALLS – Minnehaha Auditor Bob Litz received approval from county commissioners at their Sept. 8 meeting to place absentee ballot drop boxes on two county properties.
 
This was a watered-down proposal to what Litz had originally proposed. The county auditor had wanted to place absentee ballot boxes at all Sioux Falls and county library branches.
 
But Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken kiboshed that plan, saying the city would not allow the county to place those boxes.
 
While the county operates the libraries, Sioux Falls owns the land on which they are located on, making it necessary for the boxes to receive joint approval.
 
Earlier, Litz received criticism from TenHaken for not contacting him in regard to his ballot plans, but Litz had been working closely with Sioux Falls City Finance Officer and Clerk Tom Greco, who is in charge of city elections.
 
At the commission meeting, the motion was made and unanimously approved to place two drop boxes one block apart in Sioux Falls.
 
Commissioner Dean Karsky asked Litz why the boxes would be so close, and Litz said this was because of things they usually see at voting time.
 
He said that one box would be placed near the west entrance of the county administration building at Sixth and Minnesota in Sioux Falls.
 
During the June primary election, ballots were “stuffed” in the Minnehaha County Treasurer’s property tax drop box at the same location.
 
Also, across the street at Sixth and Dakota is the county election center, which is where in-person absentee voting takes place.
 
Litz said that in the past, that mail slot has also been crammed with absentee ballots people bring in after hours, making it logical for the second box to go there.
 
Plus, at those locations, a security camera is already in place, and another can easily added until the election, thus, making these drop boxes much more secure than how voting took place in past elections.
 
Litz also fielded questions about other locations outside of Sioux Falls. Although TenHaken refused to let the county use the library property, commissioners wondered why the boxes would not be placed elsewhere in Minnehaha County.
 
He said, that in his role as the chief election official for the county, he didn’t feel it was right to give voters outside of Sioux Falls an option that Sioux Falls voters did not have.
 
However, his main reason was that the bulk of ballots would come from Sioux Falls, and without the city’s cooperation, the effectiveness of the entire project would be reduced to the point that it would not be necessary.
 
During public comments, former county commission candidate Nikki Gronli of Dell Rapids spoke of her dismay that the mayor of Sioux Falls had, essentially, usurped the power to decide how the rest of the county would be able to vote.
 
Commissioner Jeff Barth also voiced his displeasure that TenHaken had acted unilaterally to block county voters from being able to safely cast their ballots.
 
Barth referred to a statement made by TenHaken where he pointed out that the drop boxes go against something the “Secretary of State for Iowa” said, but Barth added that the people who matter, South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett and Kea Warne, the director of elections with Barnett’s office both approved of Litz’s plan. Litz said the cost to purchase and install two ballot boxes was just over $4,000. 
 
Budget numbers
While the commission will take the final vote for the 2021 Minnehaha County budget on Tuesday, Sept. 29, Commission Administrator Carol Muller presented the numbers that have been established so far.
 
The new budget will be balanced at approximately $113.6 million with just under $59 million of the revenue coming from property taxes. The remainder will be made up with other taxes and fees.
 
Muller was pleased to report that none of the remaining $4.75 million in property tax opt-out dollars approved last year will be incorporated into the 2021 budget.
 
Pending commission approval on Sept. 29, the 2021 budget includes a possible 15 percent health insurance increase, a 2 percent staff salary increase, and two, new full-time positions, one in the public defender’s office and one for the jail staff.
 
The final budget meeting at 9 a.m. Sept. 29 will be in the form of a public hearing, and those who want to comment on the proposed budget can speak at that time.
 
The Minnehaha Commission has its regular meetings at 9 a.m. Tuesdays on the second floor of the county administration building at Sixth and Minnesota in Sioux Falls. These meetings are open to all, and public comment is always encouraged.

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