SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There’s less than a week remaining for people in South Dakota to register to vote.
Ahead of this upcoming election, Secretary of State Steve Barnett said there’s nearly 593,000 active registered voters and 16,435 people eligible to register to vote but not registered. Those 16,435 possible voters will need to fill out a one-page paper form and turn it into the local county auditor’s office. The other way to register to vote is by filling out additional information when applying for a South Dakota driver’s license.
“That’s not a huge number,” Barnett said about the amount of people eligible to vote, but not registered. “What we don’t know is how many of the addresses (of registered voters) aren’t up to date.”
In South Dakota, once a voter is registered to vote at an address, they are not required to update their voter registration and it is possible for two different people to vote from the same listed address. A registered voter only becomes inactive if the person dies or doesn’t vote in either of the previous two presidential elections.
Barnett, who was recently named the new general manager of the South Dakota Rural Electric Association, supported online voter registration and similar electronic-update legislation during the 2020, 2021 and 2022 Legislative sessions. Senate Bill 69 in 2022 was not online voter registration but a way for registered voters to update voter information online.
“One misconception is some people thought that once you hit submit that you’re just automatically on the voter rolls,” Barnett said. “It just goes into a queue with the county auditor and the county auditor then processes that information.”
All the same checks and safeguards would be in place for a new registered voter, Barnett said, adding the information would be checked with the Unified Judicial System, Department of Health vital records and Social Security Administration.
“It’s almost like you’re emailing a document over to the county auditor and then they’re processing it once they get it,” Barnett said.
South Dakota, along with seven other states (New Hampshire, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana), does not offer online voter registration. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports 42 states along with Washington D.C. allow online voter registration and Oklahoma and Maine are going through implementation of online voter registration.
Minnehaha County auditor Ben Kyte has also said he endorses online voter registration, mainly to help his office handle the amount of paperwork that comes with the current paper-form system.
Kyte said registered voters struggle to update their current residence and address because a physical, paper form needs to be filled out, signed and turned into the auditor’s office.
“I personally believe yes that it could be easier, at least, to update your voter registration online,” Kyte told KELOLAND News. “We have people who move quite a bit in Minnehaha County. You can develop a very safe, controlled process to do that.”
Kyte said he hires extra part-time staff to help process the increase in voter registration forms ahead of the deadline.
“There’s organizations out there that are trying to encourage people to vote,” Kyte said.
Both Barnett and Kyte will be working their final elections in their respective positions. Both Republicans sought second terms, but Barnett lost at the Republican state convention and Kyte lost in the Republican primary.
Barnett said he’s not sure if making online voter registration available would help get the more than 16,000 eligible voters signed up to cast votes.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” Barnett said. “If anything, it might help with keeping the voter rolls a little more accurate or clearer.”
Barnett said the system currently only allows for people to register during business hours and through county courthouses. He noted that to register a business in South Dakota people can file for LLC’s online.
“It would help the voters who don’t live in close proximity to a county courthouse,” Barnett said.
Secretary of State candidates
Monae Johnson, a Republican from Rapid City, and Tom Cool, a Democrat from Sioux Falls, are the two choices to be the state’s next Secretary of State. Both were nominated at party conventions over the summer with Johnson ousting Barnett 61% to 39% from 687 Republican delegates.
On Johnson’s campaign website, she says she’s worked more than eight years in the Secretary of State’s office under three different administrations.
“I am against voter fraud, online voting and online voter registration,” Johnson’s website says.
On Cool’s campaign website, he says he favors “equal access to polls.”
“Election dates and locations of polls need to be widely publicized, and absentee ballot request forms need to be readily available to those who wish to vote by mail,” Cool’s website says.
KELOLAND’s Dan Santella expects to speak with both Johnson and Cool about their campaigns on Tuesday. Look more coverage of that race on-air and online.