SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – It was election 101 for lawmakers on the House and Senate local government committees Wednesday.
Wendy Underhill, the director of elections and redistricting for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), was the lone presenter for both committees and she gave a 27-slide presentation showing lawmakers what has been happening with elections in states around the country.
The NCSL calls itself the nation’s organization supporting the work of legislators and legislative staff and it does not take positions on policy.
In her presentation to lawmakers on the Senate Local Government Committee, Underhill told lawmakers discussions for primary types and primary dates are happening in many states.
In South Dakota, there is a possible ballot measure submitted to hold open primaries.
Underhill brought up how elections are funded across the country, noting there’s federal money, state money and county money options. She said in Oklahoma, the state has taken over running elections and provides all the equipment and funding to counties.
In South Dakota, Underhill noted, elections are funded through county auditor departments.
“There are times when the counties are coming up short and sometimes the federal government can help,” Underhill said. “It’s sporadic and not something that can be counted on.”
Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller (R-Rapid City) thanked Underhill for her comprehensive presentation and said election integrity is very important here.
Sen. Tom Pischke (R-Dell Rapids) asked about online voter registration and if there’s been issues in other states. He also asked who would have access to the online voter registration database.
Underhill said she couldn’t think of any specific issues but would search a little more and pass any findings along.
“I don’t think we need to go down that route,” Pischke said about online voter registration. “It’s not really necessary in the state of South Dakota.”
Sen. Randy Deibert (R-Spearfish) asked about hand counting ballots and Underhill said hand counting only happens in very close races.
“The normal process is there is a law on voter intent,” Underhill said. “The next piece is a bipartisan team. If they don’t agree, they may go to someone higher-up. It comes down to two people looking together.”
Tripp County voted to hand count ballots for the 2022 election. Tripp and Todd County Auditor Barb Desersa told KELOLAND News 39 people counted ballots and it was a long process.
In the presentation to members of the House committee, Underhill said there were more than 2,000 bills regarding elections discussed in 2022 but only 10% of those bills passed and were enacted.
She said four states – New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Wyoming – passed laws to allow absentee/mailed ballots to be processed sooner. She said this did not include any type of counting or getting early results, but rather preparing absentee ballots to be counted on Election Day.
Underhill said there is never a perfect voter registration list because people become eligible to vote, ineligible to vote, people move into a state and away from a state. She said federal law sets the floor for voter registration lists but states can make rules to tighten voter registration lists.
She said legislative options for voter registration lists include comparing data with other sources and states, require regular reports to the legislature, an online removal tool for voters and require activities more frequently.
In South Dakota, voters are removed from the active voter registration list if they are inactive for two presidential elections (eight years).
Rep. Aaron Aylward (R-Harrisburg) asked about block chain voting. Underhill said block chain helps the voter track a ballot while keeping the ballot secret.
“It’s still a technology of the future when it comes to elections,” Underhill said.
Rep. Greg Jamison (R-Sioux Falls) asked about people combining municipal elections and school board elections with statewide elections.
Underhill said consolidating elections helps voters know when elections happen. She said Nebraska holds only one election every two years and every possible position is on that ballot.
South Dakota election statistics
The NCSL provided a breakdown of comparing 2020 election data with national averages. South Dakota had a 65% voter turnout in 2020, just behind the national average of 67%, while voter registration rate in South Dakota was 84%, just behind the national average of 87%.
The average voting wait time in South Dakota in 2020 was 5.2 minutes, while the national average was 11.6 minutes.
There are 42 states and Washington D.C. that allow online voter registration and South Dakota does not. Underhill said automated voter registration is now available in 22 states and Washington D.C. while South Dakota does not.
South Dakota is one of 16 states that requires a photo ID for in-person voting and South Dakota allows early in-person voting along with 46 other states.
South Dakota does not have post-election tabulation audits which are required in 41 other states. Four states have what’s called risk-limiting audits which is a post-election audit statistically based on the closeness of a certain race.
New Secretary of State Monae Johnson has said she supports implementing post-election audits in South Dakota.