PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The time for changes to South Dakota’s elections is now, legislative leaders of the Republican Party announced Thursday during a news conference at the Capitol.
Senate Majority Leader Casey Crabtree and House Majority Leader Will Mortensen said South Dakota has strong election laws already in place, but lawmakers have worked with county auditors about finding ways to improve the system.
“No one in the state likes things done to them, but they are willing to make progress if you are doing things with them,” Mortensen said. “Our auditors are honest and capable folks. They know what they are doing in administering our elections.”
In a joint news release, Crabtree and Mortensen said Republicans would be introducing a series of bills regarding secure ballot tabulation machines, a post-election audit process, distance requirements and poll watchers’ rights, ban on unmonitored drop boxes, ban on ballot harvesting activities and attempts to clean up the state’s voter rolls.
Crabtree said election dates are important and that’s why there is no time to wait to make changes.
“If you tackle that next session, where do things end up?” Crabtree said. “You end up with a change of law right in the middle of elections. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to us. So we’re going to tackle it now.”
Republican Sen. Michael Diedrich said he’s served 12 years in the legislature and he said the spirit of cooperation is high in Pierre. Diedrich said county auditors have made their voices heard.
“The auditor’s proposed spacing, just a spacing requirement for poll watchers to avoid poll watchers from intimidating the voters,” Diedrich said.
Senate Bill 82, regarding a set distance for poll watchers, passed the Senate State Affairs committee 8-0 and moved to the full Senate.
Another bill, SB 160 would authorize a post-election audit in South Dakota. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 41 other states require some sort of post-election audit.
SB 160 requires a post-election audit to take place within 15 days after an election. The audit will happen in 5% of the precincts in the county by hand counting all votes cast in two statewide contests and comparing the results of the hand count to the results for those precincts at the county canvass.
“The goal is to make sure that we have good, sound processes and results going in and good, sound processes and results coming out,” Mortensen said.
Mortensen said he attended two different tests of vote tabulation machines before the 2022 election and witnessed the work of county auditors firsthand. He said the post-election audit would test those machines in public again after the election.
“We just want to give every voter every confidence in our elections,” Mortensen said.
Democrats also eye election-related improvements
Democrat Sen. Reynold Nesiba has introduced a bill to require counties to redraw voting precinct lines closer after the state sets redistricting lines.
Lawmakers are in charge of redrawing legislative districts every 10 years after the U.S. Census data is released. In 2021, lawmakers set new legislative district lines which superseded some county precinct lines. During the 2022 primary and general elections, the new legislative district lines and old county precinct lines created some voter confusion as well as long voting lines.
KELOLAND News reported about long wait times for voters at one Sioux Falls precinct and confusion at some voting precincts.
Nesiba volunteered as a poll worker in a precinct that had two legislative districts voting at one precinct in June 2022.
“It’s a bad design because you have people coming in expecting to vote in one district or the other and poll workers who are basically having to manage two elections simultaneously,” Nesiba said.
Nesiba’s bill, SB 107, would require counties to draw precinct lines no later than Dec. 31 of any year ending in 1, which would mirror when redistricting would be completed by the legislature.
“It would basically be a way to make sure that the counties and the state work together to make sure that we can have those precinct lines redrawn and be able to have elections that are secure, that are well designed,” Nesiba said.