SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A group of 24 lawmakers are calling on action from Gov. Kristi Noem and Attorney General Mark Vargo to stop a state law from allowing county auditors to destroy election material from the 2020 General Election.
The letter was announced by the South Dakota Freedom Caucus, which was started this summer by lawmakers who “believe in freedom and liberty for the people of South Dakota.”
Rep. Aaron Aylward (R-Harrisburg) said he has been in contact with Noem’s office regarding the letter and admitted it might be too late for any action. Aylward said he got involved with the issue after being contacted by the South Dakota Canvassing Group. According to that group’s website, it started looking into election issues after Mike Lindell’s Cyber Symposium held in Sioux Falls in August 2021.
Aylward said the point of the lawmakers’ letter wasn’t about Trump winning the 2020 election. You can view the lawmakers who signed the letter at the bottom of this story.
“We’ve heard the argument that you guys are doing this because you don’t agree with the way the 2020 election turned out,” Aylward said. “You think Trump won and this and that. It’s not about that. What it comes down to is public information is being withheld from the public.”
Minnehaha County Auditor Ben Kyte confirmed to KELOLAND News state law allows county auditors to destroy election material from 2020 at the end of the month. State law says officers in charge of an election may “destroy voted ballots, pollbooks and all other election material relating to a federal election twenty-two months after the election at which the ballots were voted.”
September 2022 is 22 months from November 2020.
Kyte said he was unaware of the Freedom Caucus letter. He questioned why the election material should be kept because the results of the 2020 election have been complete for 22 months.
KELOLAND News reached out to Noem’s office and Secretary of State Steve Barnett about the letter. Any response received will be added to this story.
Aylward said while only 24 lawmakers signed the letter, he’s heard from more lawmakers who missed his deadline to sign the letter.
“There is more support other than just what you see there for the current legislator list,” Aylward said.
“People are just tired of all the smoke and mirrors that go on with politics,” Aylward said. “I think they just want the truth.”
The news releases from the South Dakota Freedom Caucus on elections don’t mention President Trump, South Dakota Canvassing Group or the 2020 election. Instead it calls for “related records to be evaluated by citizens reviewing this last election.”
Election discussion increases in public meetings
This latest letter from a group of lawmakers on the election process comes after public outcry about “election integrity” in public meetings across South Dakota.
In July, the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee heard testimony from Jessica Pollema, of Tea, who lost the Republican primary for Lincoln County auditor. At that meeting, she claimed South Dakota’s “voter rolls are hacked.”
She also pointed out South Dakota is one of four states that doesn’t require post-election audits of some type.
In June, District 2 House candidate John Sjaarda spoke about election issues in Valley Springs during the June 7 primary election. Those errors came down to human error.
Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth said counties could use help from the state Legislature when new districts are drawn.
“There are 179 different ballot types in this county,” Barth said. “We certainly can use help making it a better system, but we could have used some help from the Legislature as well.”
Barth stressed the county follows state rules that require a name and ID for every voter. Each voter uses a paper ballot that can be tracked for each person.
Earlier in June, Monae Johnson, of Rapid City, defeated Barnett for the Republican nomination for secretary of state. Johnson ran on a platform of election integrity and told the South Dakota Republican convention delegates that post-election audits would be conducted.
In April 2022, Kyte told Minnehaha County commissioners it should be easier for people to update their voter registration, including change of address. Kyte said he supports online voter registration, noting South Dakota is one of only a few states that doesn’t allow online voter registration.
Kyte lost the Republican nomination for Minnehaha County Auditor to Leah Anderson. Like Johnson, Anderson says on her website she’s running for the position for “election integrity.”
Letter signed by lawmakers
South Dakota lawmakers who signed letter to Governor Noem on election oversight
Representative Aaron Aylward
Representative Drew Dennert
Representative Fred Deutsch
Representative Randy Gross
Representative Jon Hansen
Representative Taffy Howard
Representative Kevin Jensen
Representative Phil Jensen
Representative Chris Karr
Representative Sam Marty
Representative Liz May
Representative John Mills
Representative Tina Mulally
Representative Scott Odenbach
Representative Ernie Otten
Representative Marty Overweg
Representative Carl Perry
Representative Sue Peterson
Representative Tom Pischke
Representative Tony Randolph
Representative Bethany Soye
Representative Kaleb Weis
Senator Julie Frye-Mueller
Senator Marsha Symens