Pierre Direct Line By Rep. Judy Clark The first day of the 1999 South Dakota Legislative Session was characterized by a record breaking eight-hour session and a near absence of partisan rhetoric as the Legislature was asked to decide the outcome of the 12th District race between Hal Wick and John McIntyre.
Arguments on both sides of the debate had merit.
Mr. Wick's arguments that the South Dakota Constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, gives the Legislature the right to be the final determination of its membership, is valid. And his contention that the Recount Board had not consistently applied state regulations against identifying marks also has some validity.
South Dakota statutes prohibit any kind of mark which would lead to the identification of a ballot to one person. Where the Recount Board erred was in rejecting ballots with marks on the front of the ballot, but not on the back. This is an important inconsistency in counting ballots and neither side ever gave a reason for that decision.
Mr. Wick's case was that since the Recount Board had paired off questionable ballots (one of Wick's for one of McIntyre's) and put them aside, only the 17 debatable ones left should be considered.
On the other hand, Mr. McIntyre's assertion that since the Recount Board is made up of three persons, one selected by each candidate and a judge whose party is the same as that of the governor's, there was sufficient and reasonable opportunity for Mr. Wick to make a complaint about the process at the time. State law also allows a complaining candidate to ask for another Recount Board.
And while in the past the State Supreme Court has turned a similar challenge back to the Legislature to decide, that case was over an election the court deemed a tie. Whether the court would have made the same decision this time is unsure. Many legislators felt the process should include an appeal to the Supreme Court before the Legislature.
Every election requires judgement calls about the validity of ballots. Some citizens don't realize how difficult they make elections when they don't follow directions.
But once a local Recount Board has been selected, barring a deliberate disregard of the regulations by the Board, a majority of representatives, including myself, felt that the Recount Board's decision should stand, or be challenged first at the local and court level. And as a practical matter, since all but 17 of the disputed ballots had been put back into the general group of ballots, a recount by the Legislature might mean counting all 7,000 ballots.
Because of this contested election the Legislature is sure to consider clarifying legislation for Recount Boards. This is something I would support very strongly. More than likely we will also consider some way to more clearly define "identifying marks" and their importance versus "voter intent."
But one thing I hope all of us consider now is the critical importance of election integrity. We rarely think of how elections are run until there is a question about the results. From printing, storing, voting, processing, counting and recounting ballots the process has to be honest and protected � every time.
This election proves once again that the slogan is true. Your vote does count!
If you have questions or comments, please call me at Pierre (605) 773-3851 or at home at 624-9795. I serve on the Appropriations Committee and appreciate hearing from you.