This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Hand County Auditor Doug DeBoer plans to attend the meeting virtually.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As a deadline approaches allowing 2020 election material to be destroyed, 24 lawmakers who signed an “election integrity” letter are declining an invitation from county auditors to meet and discuss election security.
Instead, the South Dakota Freedom Caucus says it will host a public informational meeting at the state Capitol that county auditors can join remotely via Microsoft Teams at 1 p.m. Friday.
“We must decline your request to attend the county auditors’ invitation only event, out of the view and inaccessible to the general public, and after the stated deadline for our request for the preservation of our election records has passed, on behalf of our citizens,” the letter from the South Dakota Freedom Caucus states.
The citizens who publicly released a letter to the South Dakota Freedom Caucus was the group called South Dakota Canvassing Group. According to that group’s website, it started looking into election issues after Mike Lindell’s Cyber Symposium held in Sioux Falls in August 2021.
September 3 will be exactly 22 months since the November 3, 2020 election. State law says officers in charge of an election may “destroy voted ballots, poll books and all other election material relating to a federal election twenty-two months after the election at which the ballots were voted.”
“Whether or not issues or incidents occurred in the previous elections is immaterial to our request to uphold the inherent right of the citizens of our great state of South Dakota to oversee their elections,” a letter from the South Dakota Freedom Caucus states.
Lawmakers want to “address issues or concerns any of our elected county public officials may have in serving the public’s interest and right in overseeing their elections at that time.”
Hand County Auditor Doug DeBoer told KELOLAND News he doesn’t believe he’ll attend Friday’ meeting but plans to listen virtually. DeBoer said he’s happy lawmakers are getting involved with the questions from the South Dakota Canvassing Group.
DeBoer said his office has received numerous Freedom of Information Act requests and said he’s tracked how many hours he’s spent responded to the inquires of election material. DeBoer said he’s spent 111 hours responding to different FOIA requests, which he said are mostly phrased the same with different names.
He noted many county auditor offices across the state have received FOIA requests and they can be time consuming especially for smaller counties, where the auditor may be the lone staff member and elections make up a small part of the duties.
Minnehaha County Auditor Ben Kyte has repeatedly said elections are only 20% of what his office deals with on a day-to-day basis.
DeBoer said the main disconnect between what the South Dakota Canvassing Group wants are called “Cast Vote Records” also known as CVRs. He said for the ballot counting machines in Hand County, the CVRs are printed on a tape. For bigger counties, he said the CVRs are digitally recorded and the South Dakota Office of Hearings ruled the digital CVRs are “proprietary information.”
DeBoer said CRS information sometimes contains ballot images, but he said he’d be surprised if any South Dakota machines took ballot images because South Dakota law doesn’t allow write-in ballot answers.
Rep. Aaron Aylward (R-Harrisburg) told KELOLAND News last week that lawmakers’ inquiries are purely for the benefit of keeping public information public and not about whether Trump won the 2020 election.
Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, published a letter Monday in response to the letter signed by the 24 lawmakers. Noem said in the letter she agreed with lawmakers that elections should be conducted in a transparent fashion.
“My team is actively researching potential legislation for the upcoming legislative session that will further guarantee free and fair elections in South Dakota,” Noem said in the letter.
KELOLAND News has reached out to a few auditors for reaction to the letter and Friday’s public meeting on elections.