Judge signs order partially quashing case on Lincoln County records

Lincoln County agreed to retain election-related records after the November 2020 presidential election while arguing that they did not have sufficient time to respond to a lawsuit regarding said records during a court hearing Tuesday morning in Sioux Falls.

Circuit Court Judge John Pekas signed a motion to partially vacate an order preserving these records after a lawsuit was filed by We the People for Free, Fair and Transparent Elections against Lincoln County and Sheri Lund, the county auditor, on August 31.

Pekas said in a Minnehaha County courtroom Tuesday that he signed the motion based on the fact that the county and Lund were not given notice that they would receive the lawsuit.

The parties have agreed to retain election records after the November 2020 elections, as long as the records exist.

The rescinded order, filed by Joseph Meader, the Lincoln County Assistant State’s Attorney, on Sept. 2, requested that they were not aware of the trial until two days before Pekas’ order on Sept. 1. September, requesting that all election records after November 2020 be retained.

The order included not only Lincoln County, but all 65 other counties in South Dakota. Meader added that jurisdictional issues could arise by including counties.

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The lawsuit stems from multiple freedom of information requests for public records relating to machine logs retained for the November 2020 election and 2022 primaries, recordings of votes cast (CVRs), constituency reports and absenteeism envelopes for the June 6 primary election in Lincoln County. These requests were denied because the information is considered confidential under South Dakota Sun laws or the information did not exist.

According to the Washington Post, records of votes cast are forms of data that show how a person voted on a ballot and can be used to generate spreadsheets that scholars have used in the past to track voting by shared ticket and other templates.

Shawn Tornow, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said Tuesday the group seeks transparency and “open records that are public records.”

Nearly a dozen people were in the courtroom for the morning hearing. Some wore gray “We the People” shirts.

We the People LLC was formed in late August

We the People for Free, Fair and Transparent Elections was filed as a limited liability company in the office of the SD Secretary of State on August 29, two days before the complaint was filed.

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Lund had agreed to keep the records in a press release, Tornow said during the hearing.

It’s unclear how the other 65 counties responded after receiving the order by fax.

Pekas expressed concern during the hearing that if CVRs were not available even though the software used by counties for voter tabulation indicated it had the feature, it would create a problem.

“We paid for it. People in South Dakota should have the right to have this information, but it was not provided,” he said.

Pekas said the two sides could work out how to proceed in the future.

Follow Annie Todd on Twitter @AnnieTodd96. Reach her with tips, questions and other community news at atodd@argusleader.com or call her at 605-215-3757.