SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Keeping South Dakota elections “safer” was the topic of discussion with three bills in the Senate State Affairs Committee Monday morning. 

Three bills – Senate Bill 122, SB 123 and SB 124 – were all discussed as ways to improve the election process, keep the most up-to-date voter information and create new requirements for absentee ballots. 

Sen. Casey Crabtree (R-Madison) was the sponsor of all three bills. The longest discussion came on SB 122, which would prohibit private funding of election costs except for gifts of a nominal and intrinsic value. The measure ended up passing 8-1 with all eight Republicans supporting it and the lone Democrat opposing it.  

Crabtree said the bill would prohibit government election offices from accepting funding from private individuals, nonprofits and special interest groups. 

“South Dakota has strong election laws and we have good people working on our elections,” Crabtree said. “South Dakota has good laws in place to prevent fraud, but as with all policy, there is room for improvement.” 

Crabtree said SB 122 responds to “unprecedented private donations given to local election supervisors throughout the United States in the 2020 General Election.” He cited $350 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. Crabtree said the CTCL received funding from a foundation led by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and his wife, Priscilla Chan. 

In South Dakota, Crabtree said there was nearly $380,000 donated and used in 35 counties. 

“While there is no evidence of improper activity with the dollars in South Dakota, it brings to the forefront a policy debate,” Crabtree said. “Whether private dollars should or should not be used to conduct elections.” 

Crabtree said only public dollars should be used for polling locations and vote tabulation centers. 

T.J. Nelson, a lobbyist for the Opportunity Solutions Project (a national organization that specificalizes in election reform), said 11 states have passed laws to stop election offices from getting private funding. He said it was “alarming” that $380,000 was spent in South Dakota in the 2020 election. 

“More alarming is that this was done quietly,” Nelson said. “I don’t know what these counties did with the money.” 

Rep. Kent Peterson (R-Salem) said allowing private funds for elections could be a slippery slope and counties could become too dependent on it. 

“Our counties aren’t exactly flush with cash,” Peterson said. 

A handful of people testified online in favor of SB 122. One proponent, Joanna Smith, from Rapid City, said Pennington County received more than $50,000 in funds from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. She said it concerned her and her friends about the integrity of the election. She said most of the money received in Pennington County was used to help with absentee voting. 

There was no opponent testimony. 

Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission) asked if election workers in South Dakota are trustworthy individuals. He said if the county can’t afford staffing for early absentee voting, where would the funding come from? He said counties shouldn’t have to apply for additional funding for elections and the state should give more money. 

“I know rural South Dakota does struggle with election costs,” Heinert said. “Until we fully fund it, we should help them out.” 

More election discussion, mostly around keeping the voter registration rolls up to date, continued with SB 123, which was sent to the 41st day by a 7-2 vote, and SB 124, which was also killed by a 6-3 vote. 

SB 122 will move onto the Senate floor.