Decision 2020

A state lawmaker from southeast South Dakota has apparently moved forward in his re-election bid after a recount changed the results in his favor.

District 19 incumbent Marty Overweg (R-New Holland) emerged as one of the top two finishers after Monday’s recount in the Republican primary for the district’s two House seats. The district includes Douglas, Hutchinson, Hanson and McCook counties and a portion of Bon Homme County.

In another recount, District 17 Sen. Art Rusch Vermillion has apparently won the GOP primary over challenger Nancy Rasmussen of Hurley by a four-vote margin and will advance to the November general election.

In the District 19 recount resulted in an additional 52 votes for Oveweg in his home Douglas County. The other incumbent, Kent Peterson of Salem, picked up 28 votes, while challenger Jessica Bahmuller of Alexandria picked up an additional 11 votes.

The other change came in Hutchinson County, where Bahmuller lost one vote.

The recount difference was enough for Oveweg to overcome the 21-vote deficit against Bahmuller following the election-night counting. Based on the recount numbers, he has apparently claimed the second GOP spot in the general election where the two top finishers will win two-year terms.

Douglas County Auditor Phyllis Barker said the large number of vote changes resulted from an oversight in the counting process.

“There were significant changes in Douglas County’s results due to an oversight that was not discovered until the recount took place,” she said. “All the votes within Douglas County were tabulated on two automatic tabulators, DS200.”

Douglas County received a large number of absentee ballots in the Republican primary, which added to the vote-counting process, Barker said. The county has 2,093 registered voters, who are predominantly Republican.

The COVID pandemic added to the election concerns, Barker said. With many poll workers over age 65, she found it nearly impossible to find enough poll workers. The county went from five to two poll locations in Armour and Harrison, the only precincts with local races while remaining centrally located for other precincts, she added.

Because of COVID, the number of absentee ballots for the June primary soared from 70 in 2018 to 525 this year. She assembled an absentee board to county those absentee ballots prior to the regular election ballots. This was done on two machines, then regular ballots were counted.

 “When it came time to report them to the state system, the tabulator report from both absentee counts needed to be added to the precinct total by hand and then entered into the state reporting system,” she said. “This is where the human error occurred when adding these by hand. One of the absentee counts (was) not added into the final figure that was reported to state for Precincts One and Two.”

The original Douglas County totals were Overweg 599, Peterson 282 and Bahmuller 229. The recount totals were Overweg 651, Peterson 310 and Bahmuller 240.

Hutchinson County Auditor Diane Murtha explained her recount results to the Press & Dakotan. For the June 2 primary, Hutchinson County ran one polling place at the courthouse in Olivet.

 “Jessica (Bahmuller) lost one vote in precinct 1 in the recount,” he said. “This is probably from improper marking of the ballot, which would be using a pencil instead of black ink and folding the ballot multiple times which causes a crease in the ovals.”

Overweg is filling a gubernatorial appointment and served during the 2020 Legislature. He filled the House vacancy created when then-District 19 Rep. Kyle Schoenfish (R-Scotland) was appointed to fill the District 19 Senate seat after incumbent Stace Nelson (R-Fulton) resigned from office.

In the June 2 primary, the top two GOP finishers advanced to the November general election. The election night results showed incumbent Kent Peterson of Salem with 1,881 votes and challenger Jessica Bahmuller of Alexandria with 1,741 votes, followed by Overweg with 1,720 votes.

Under state law, Overweg was entitled to seek a recount because the 21-vote difference amounted to less than 2 percent of the votes cast in the election. He filed for the recount, which was conducted in each of the counties in his legislative district.

The Press & Dakotan had sought a confirmation of the District 19 House recount results from the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office in Pierre but hadn’t received a response at press time.

DISTRICT 17 SENATE RACE

The Press & Dakotan had also sought the Secretary of State’s confirmation of the recount results in the GOP primary for the District 17 Senate seat. Originally, incumbent Art Rusch of Vermillion had defeated challenger Nancy Rasmussen of Hurley by a 1,002-996 margin.

The legislative district consists of Clay and Turner counties.

Rasmussen has served as a District 17 House member but was term limited and sought a move to the Senate. The other District 19 House member, Ray Ring (D-Vermillion) was term limited and chose not to see the Senate seat.

Rasmussen was also entitled to seek a recount. She made the request and recounts were conducted Monday in both Clay and Turner counties.

Turner County Auditor Sheila Hagemann told the Press & Dakotan that Rasmussen picked up two votes in her county, while Clay County Auditor Carri Crum said her county’s results remained the same.

As a result, Rusch has apparently claimed a four-vote victory and will move on to the November general election for a two-year term.

Hagemann explained the recount process that netted Rasmussen two additional votes.

“My part of the recount was to run the ballot through the counting machine after the recount board determined there was an official ballot stamp on each ballot,” the auditor said. “On the precinct that didn’t match the vote from election night, the recount manually counted those ballots, then we ran the ballot through the machine again to determine the count.”

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