SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A non-election year doesn’t mean Secretary of State Steve Barnett isn’t busy.
In the months after the 2020 election, Barnett said his office has been updating registered voter rolls, holding election trainings for county auditors and hosting voter registration and voter address updates on a few of South Dakota’s college campuses.
Looking back at how the height of the COVID-19 pandemic challenged elections across the country, Barnett is proud of the 427,529 ballots cast during the 2020 General Election.
“We had a good turnout in 2020, right around 73%,” Barnett told KELOLAND News. “I think South Dakotans did a good job of turning out and we had a pretty engaged electorate. I’m hoping for a nice turnout again in the June primaries in 2022 and November midterms as well.”
However, even in an off-election year, Barnett encourages all voters to make sure all their voter information is up to date. He said there were 578,000 active voters in November 2020, but that’s down to 575,000 active voters in November 2021.
“We recently just did some list maintenance,” Barnett said about the difference in active voters. “If a voter on the voter rolls doesn’t do any participation in four years, vote or update an address, they move to inactive.”
That’s led to more than 60,000 inactive voters currently listed in the Secretary of State’s database.
“If they don’t have any activity after four more years and eight years total of inactivity, they would then get purged from the rolls,” Barnett said.
County auditors will send out notices to people with the address on file to notify them they’ll be removed from the rolls unless they reach out to update voter information.
The latest breakdown of registered voters by party is 279,187 Republicans, 153,830 Democrats, 139,740 independents, 2,576 Libertarians and 1,374 as “other.” The “other” category is “for voters who write any other political party on their voter registration form that is not currently a recognized political party in South Dakota.”
Handling absentee voting beyond 2020
The high number of absentee ballots cast in the 2020 election also stands out of Barnett.
In both the primary and general election, more than 50% of the total ballots cast were absentee. Barnett said 58% of the total ballots cast in the June 2020 primary were absentee and 51% in the 2020 general election were absentee.
Before 2020, the number of absentee ballots was in the 37% range, Barnett said.
“I’d like to say we reached the high-water mark with absentee voting, but this may be a popular trend to vote absentee moving forward,” said Barnett, who added the state stopped requiring excuses for absentee voting in 2002. “As you saw from that last election, a lot of people took advantage of it.”
He applauded auditors, election workers, states attorneys and county commissioners who got creative with recruiting new election workers for the 2020 elections.
“Hopefully we got them engaged for future elections,” Barnett said. “A lot of new people ended up stepping up to help.”
In Minnehaha County there was a record of more than 41,000 absentee ballots for the 2020 General Election. In 2022, Barnett said Minnehaha County will have more resources for counting absentee ballots, including more laptops, scanning devices and more advanced letter openers.
He said one of the most important parts of his job is being a trusted place South Dakotans can turn to for accurate details.
“The best credible sources of information are your local county auditors and the Secretary of State’s office,” Barnett said.
For people unaware where to vote, view the Secretary of State website or call the county auditor.