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Getting out the vote

Posted: Thursday, Nov 8th, 2012

South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant shakes the hand of Carole Davis, poll worker, during the General Election Tuesday at the Huron Arena. Huron was one of several stops Gant made to visit with election workers, answer questions, check on any issues and thank them for their efforts. PHOTO BY LOUISE VAN POLL/PLAINSMAN

HURON — Secretary of State Jason Gant visited Huron during the General Election Tuesday and was impressed with the voter turnout and the smooth, efficient polling process.

“This is a super facility,” Gant said about the Huron Arena. “It is so nice to have all the voting in one place. The lighting is bright and the area is so open. It is handicapped accessible and a very comfortable environment. Plus there is so much parking.”

Gant said he stops at different locations during each election to say hello and greet all the poll workers. He thanks them for their service and asks if there are any questions or problems. In this way he can get feedback on what is and isn’t working and take suggestions.

“I am always looking for ideas to make our elections better. I also want to know if there are any issues or problems that I need to look into and address.”

Gant was elected in 2010 and sworn into office in January 2011. He said he got the idea of visiting polling places in April of that year.

“It was the 100th day I had been in office and there were five elections taking place in five cities around Pierre,” said Gant. “I decided to go out and say hi and thank you to the officials and see how the elections were running. Since then I have traveled to different voting centers for every election.”

Up until this year, that meant mainly city and school elections. This year has been the first Primary and General elections Gant has supervised. He started his day at 5:30 a.m. in Yankton and Huron was the sixth city he had visited. He said the turn out has been up everywhere he’s stopped.

“I’m encouraged by the turn out to vote in this election,” Gant commented. “I think its a combination of a national election and all the state issues on the ballot. There are a lot of state questions to be decided and they are issues voters feel strongly about; schools, taxes, finances, everyone has an opinion about those.”

Gant said he was in Yankton this morning checking on the new electronic poll books that were being used there for the first time. The electronic poll books are laptop computers that are connected to every other electronic poll book in the county and replace the paper books that are currently used at each polling locale. Because they all share the same information, people can vote anywhere within their county instead of in a specific polling place. For a larger city, Gant explained, people could vote at the polling place closest to their job.

“Or the guy who stops for coffee and realizes its election day can go to the closest site and vote instead of having to drive back to his polling place,” said Gant. “It eliminates any confusion about where to go to vote, because you can vote anywhere. Especially where we’ve had redistricting and people are going to their old polling place and being told they have to go somewhere else now. If they go after work and it is 6:50 p.m., they will not be able to get to the correct place in time to cast their vote. The electronic poll book increases access to voting.”

He described how an election using these electronic poll books would look in Huron where there is only one polling location.

“There would be a long table with about 10 of the computers lined up,” he said. “Folks entering the arena would go to any available computer and type in their name or scan the bar code on the back of their driver’s license. If they are a registered voter they receive a receipt which they take to an election worker who gives them the appropriate ballot. They would then go to any open polling booth to vote. The booths would be lined up in one area, basically eliminating any lines and waiting times.”

The electronic polling books have been used in four elections so far. The first time was in Sioux Falls in 2011 for a city/school election. They have also been used in Hyde, Potter and Sully Buttes counties for the Primary Election.

“They were loving it in Yankton for the ease in access to voting,” Gant said. “But this technology is only used to made check-in easier and quicker, it is not used in the booth. We are not getting rid of the paper ballots on my watch.”

Gant said the elections are the best part of his job. He is also passionate about getting people registered to vote and then encouraging them to go out and vote. Part of that is increasing access to voting to all people.

“A big part of my job is to balance security with convenience,” he said. “We are always looking to improve accessibility for people with disabilities and everyone else. But we must always balance that with the security of the vote.”

Gant said every state has to contend with voter fraud and South Dakota is no different. “We have people who try to vote twice or vote in different places, but we catch them on election day,” he said. “We also have people who try to vote in South Dakota and Minnesota. We may not catch them on election day, but we catch them afterwards and prosecute them.”

On a lighter note, Gant explained how the ballots are developed. He said South Dakota has five political parties registered with the state: Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Constitutional and American’s Elect. About three months prior to an election these names are tossed in a hat and he draws them out one at a time. This is the order the parties are listed on the ballot. Next, if there is more than one name to be listed under a party, the order those names are listed on the ballot are determined the same way.

After speaking with all the election workers in Huron, Gant, a native of Geddes, was on his way to Miller, the next stop on his election day tour.

For the complete article see the 11-07-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-07-2012 paper.

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