On Tuesday, voters in Hughes County got a bit of an extension of the 12-hour voting period, which normally runs between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The time extension was given because some of the electronic poll books used at the county's seven voting centers crashed and needed to be rebooted. In Hughes County, voters can mark their ballots at any of the seven voting centers.
At three of the county’s seven voting centers, voters were able to cast votes after 7 p.m. At New Life Assembly of God Church and Lutheran Memorial Church, voters got an extra 10 minutes.
At Faith Lutheran Church, they had until 7:20 p.m. to cast their ballots. Three voters took advantage of the extra time, appearing after 7 p.m. at Faith Lutheran.
Hughes County Auditor Jane Naylor told the Capital Journal mid-morning about the decision to extend voting times due to the issues with the electronic pollbooks.
According to Naylor, electronic poll books are used in administration of the election – checking voter registration and ensuring that voters get the correct ballot. The electronic poll books aren't involved in the tally of votes, so no votes were lost during the few minutes when the machines were crashed, Naylor said.
Naylor told the Capital Journal that the reports of the crashes came to her sometime around 8 a.m.
Voting centers have more than one electronic poll book, she said. At least one poll book crashed at all the centers, she said. But except for one center – the one at New Life Assembly of God Church – all seven still had at least one poll book up and running.
According to Naylor, when the calls came in about the problems with pollbooks, she called BPro, the Pierre-based software company that developed the TotalVote software for the state's election system. BPro gave her the steps for rebooting an electronic pollbook, and she relayed that information to the voting centers. The pollbooks were back up and running in five or six minutes, she said.
But because of the downtime at the New Life location, she was going to extend the time for voting, she told the Capital Journal mid-morning. In a news release a couple of hours later, the Secretary of State's office gave the details for extended voting times in Hughes County for three voting centers.
South Dakota Codified Law 12-2-4 allows for extension of voting times: "... the county auditor may, upon request of the superintendent of an election precinct, if an emergency exists by reason of mechanical failure of a voting machine or an unanticipated shortage of ballots or like unforeseen event warrants it, extend the polling hours for that precinct until the emergency situation has been resolved."
The Secretary of State's news release said that the pollbook issue was not statewide and was confined to eight counties – those that "voluntarily use electronic pollbooks."
According to the release, the eight counties that use electronic poll books are: Brookings, Brown, Hughes, Hyde, Pennington, Potter, Sully and Yankton.
In Pennington County, some of the precincts were given extensions for voting time until 8:45 p.m. Mountain Time, according to the release. That meant no initial results were available until 9:45 p.m. Central Time.
Election workers at the Faith Lutheran voting center told the Capital Journal that ballots cast after 7 p.m. had to be treated as “provisional” ballots. A provisional ballot is a mechanism to ensure that a prospective voter is still able to fill out a ballot, even if there’s some dispute about whether they’re properly registered to vote.
According to the Secretary of State’s website, a provisional ballot is “sealed in a special envelope which is not opened on election night.” The Secretary of State’s website says that provisional ballots are counted only if documentation can be located after election day proving the person was properly registered to vote in that precinct.
Kristin Gabriel, the state’s Help America Vote Act Coordinator, told the Capital Journal that ballots treated as provisional due to the extended timing are required to be kept separate from other provisional ballots.
Not on the list of electronic pollbook users is Stanley County. When the Capital Journal reached Stanley County Auditor Phil Burtch at mid-morning on Tuesday, she said everything to that point had been smooth.