County using new voter system
By ELISA SAND, Staff Reporter
Counties across South Dakota are using a new system to access and update voter records. Total Vote allows county auditors instant access to changes that need to be made, from new voter registrations and pending applications to record deletions due to a death and notices of missing information with existing records. Lake County Auditor Bobbi Janke said she is just starting to use the new system, and it continues to improve every week.|
South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant said the system was created using input from auditors across the state. The goal was to create one computer system that could be used by all counties and the state. The new program is designed to communicate directly with other state departments that provide alerts related to voter records -- like alerts from the state Department of Health regarding a death, which requires the removal of that voter from the active voter registration list.
"It's incorporated all of the election systems into one new system," Gant said.
Auditors can add and edit voter registrations using a system of checks and balance. They can create sample ballots, and party affiliation is automatically checked for those interested in taking out a petition for an elected office. Gant said that if a registered Republican attempts to seek office as a Democrat, Total Vote would prevent the petition from being issued.
"It will handle just about every aspect of our election system," Gant said. "We're quite excited about the opportunities with this system."
Total Vote is a concept the state has been working on for almost two years, and several training sessions have taken place.
"We thought we had all the ideas on how the system would work best, but every day we get better ideas on how to improve it," he said.
While it's exciting to see the system up and running knowing all the work that it's taken, Gant said, the best part came after all the auditors started using it and providing the state with ideas on how it could be improved.
"I just think that's so exciting when we're able to share ideas that Turner and Clay may be doing that Campbell and Brown never even thought of," he said. "Here we're able to create this system taking all those best ideas and put it into one system, but also being responsive to not just the big counties but the little counties, because the needs are different."
Gant sees the system as a true success because it accommodates the largest counties and is also efficient for the smallest county.
Gant spoke to the Daily Leader via teleconference with Janke, who specifically asked if improvements were being made concerning the transmission of voter registration information received from the Department of Public Safety when voters register as they renew or obtain a driver's license.
"We had a few people at the general election who went to vote, but their voter registration information never made it to the courthouse," Janke said.
"We hope to have a solution soon," Gant said. "It's number one on the priority list."
Janke said in that situation, a series of calls were needed on election day to track down the voter registration information, which caused a delay in allowing that voter to fill out a petition.
Janke said that once new voters are entered into the Total Vote system, a confirmation letter is automatically generated which is mailed to the voter.
"We want them to call if they don't get a letter," Janke said.
While all electronic information from the 66 counties across the state has been integrated into the system, there's still work to do to complete the transition.
Janke said one time-consuming aspect will involve scanning and saving the paper copies of each voter's history. In Lake County, there are 9,000 records to be scanned -- a job Janke hopes to have completed by an Experience Works employee.
"We're hoping by the end of the year each county will upload all files from their cabinets," Gant said.
There are about 500 voter records in Lake County tagged in the system as missing information. Janke said those records do not have birth dates.
Gant said there are a number of records without birthdays because early voter registration applications didn't require them.
"Those voters are typically 80-plus," he said. "That's something we hope to get filled in."
In some cases, Janke said, a birthday is probably listed within the paper copy of a voter's record, but those who don't have a birthday on record will be those who have lived in the same home and never amended their registration.
Gant said the primary advantage to this system is that it does what 10 separate systems previously accomplished in his office.
"The beauty of having it all in one place is it can be done in one system instead of multiple," he said.
While South Dakota previously had a statewide system, it was a stand-alone system that had to communicate with individual systems from each county.
"All 66 counties had their own that talked to the state system, and then the state system had to talk to all of them," he said. "The savings on the state side is going to be wonderful."
Asked whether Total Vote will help with validating petitions quicker, Gant agreed.
"Yes, because we're all looking at the same system. There's no longer a state system and 66 county systems. It's going to be much better. We won't have information that differs from the county and the state," he said.
Janke said Total Vote will also streamline the county's ability to record voters. Poll workers will be provided with voter lists that contain bar codes, which will be scanned in on election night to record who voted.
Gant said Total Vote provides a new option for city and school elections: access to the military system.
"Right now by federal law, for only federal elections, we have to electronically send the ballot to (military personnel on active duty)," he said.
The military personnel then print out the ballot, fill it in and mail it back to their county of residence.
"City and schools can't use the system, but with Total Vote, if a city and school wants to, they can use the system to send their ballots to military personnel," Gant said.
Counties were not required to make special budget allocations for this project. Gant said each county has federal funding set aside through the Help America Vote Act. These funds were used to pay for the system and the necessary scanning equipment. The system was also designed to be self-supportive, Gant said, explaining that money collected from political groups for voter registration lists will go back into a fund for system maintenance.
Janke said in Lake County, this means courtesy lists will no longer be provided to each political party.