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Voter fraud concerns lead to hand count in Tripp County

Kent Osborne

With election skepticism high and questions asked about the integrity of voting machines, some are looking to go back to tallying votes by hand.

One South Dakota county tried just that. Their experience races questions over how practical this method is.

In the fallout of 2020 election, the Tripp County Board of Commissioners voted to count ballots by hand for the next election cycle.

But on election night 2022, County Auditor Barb Desersa wasn't convinced hand-counting is a feasible solution to fraud concerns.

“Like I’ve said all along I have faith in the state – the Secretary of States office – that does all the testing on those machines," Desersa said. "They know they can’t be connected to the internet. I have full faith in the machine, and I hope when we run ‘em through tonight that proves that so we won’t have to do this again.”

Desersa is a lifelong Tripp County resident and has been auditor for the past eight years. It’s the first time she’s ever organized a hand count.

To tally votes this way, the rural county had to recruit dozens of volunteers, some of whom worked polling locations for the entire day, working in bipartisan teams late into the night.

“One reads, and one of each party tallies," Desersa said. "At the end of their ballots, they would make sure they match. If not they will have to go through and do that race again, if they’re off. These guys started quite some time ago, so it depends on how long it takes to go through one ballot – it is a long ballot.”

Desersa said in a normal election cycle, the same job would be accomplished by two people working a voting machine.

Desersa said poll workers didn’t leave the counting location until 4:00 a.m., and Tripp County results weren’t officially submitted until 5:15 Wednesday morning.

Tripp County also serves as the administrative center of neighboring Todd County and the Rosebud Indian Reservation, which tallied votes by machine.

By 11 p.m. Central Time, Todd County was beginning to report results to the Associated Press. At the same time, Tripp County poll workers were still trying to close the gap.

Joy Tyburec was one of those poll workers up late. She did not support the decision to count by hand, but volunteered out of a sense of civic duty.

“I think it’s ridiculous when we have machines that can do it and we sat here all day. And I realize I didn’t have to volunteer to do this, but we sat here all day and we’re not even half done and it’s midnight,” Tyburek said.

Despite the full day of work, Tyburec said more than anything she is happy Tripp County saw a good voter turnout.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture