Political newcomer Jessica Bahmuller defeated Representative Marty Overweg (R-19/New Holland) in the June 2 District 19 Republican primary by 21 votes… or so we thought. Rep. Overweg called for a recount, and the recounters changed 52 ballots in Overweg’s Douglas County and flipped the result to a 21-vote victory for the appointed incumbent.
Bahmuller spoke with me over the noon hour about this reversal. With five counties gerrymandered into District 19, Bahmuller couldn’t attend the recount at all five courthouses. She chose to witness the recount in Hutchinson County, where she had her largest vote total and thus, she figured, the most to protect with her watchful eye. She saw just one vote change in Hutchinson County. Bon Homme, Hanson, and McCook counties reported no changes.
But Douglas County, the only county where Overweg didn’t finish last in the original primary night tally, the only county where Republican voters thought he’d done well enough in the 2020 Session to serve again, somehow produced 86 changed votes. According to what Bahmuller says she heard from Douglas County auditor Phyllis Barker (and Bahmuller warns that she’s heard conflicting information from that office), Bahmuller gained 11 votes, Rep. Kent Peterson gained 23, and Rep. Overweg gained 52.
Bahmuller said she has heard that the new votes came not just from Overweg’s county but from his home precinct. Bahmuller said there are “a lot of coincidences” that are “pretty obvious to everyone involved.”
86 changed votes across an entire district where 5,432 votes were cast (and remember, that’s votes, not voters, as voters can check up to two candidates on a state House ballot) is 1.6% error, a significant change. 86 votes changed out of 1,110 cast, a 7.7% error, coming from one county, the recount victor’s home county, when the other four counties in the same race combined reported one change, is more than significant; it’s a call to audit that county’s election procedures and find out what went so far wrong, in a way that could have affected local races well outside of the 2% margin that authorizes candidates to call for a recount under South Dakota law.