PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A trio of election-related bills were defeated by a Senate panel Wednesday as the discussion about changing South Dakota’s election laws morphed into accusations of not trusting local officials.
The Senate State Affairs Committee sent Senate Bill 123, SB-124 and SB-128 to the 41st Day, killing all three “election integrity” bills 9-0 brought forward by Republican Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller.
“This is about harassing local officials,” Republican Sen. Lee Schoenbeck said after bringing a motion to defeat SB-124. “In this case, you have a group of a half a dozen people that clearly have some kind of an obsession or fetish.”
Schoenbeck, the Senate President Pro Tempore, aimed his comments at Rick Weible, Jessica Pollema and others who call themselves the South Dakota Canvassing Group. The group played a role in Tripp County decision to hand count ballots for the 2022 election.
“This would give them the ability to take their little hobby, their obsession and fetish and give papers to these county auditors all across South Dakota,” Schoenbeck said. “Instead of working on South Dakota, local issues that the auditors are elected to do, they would be stuck trying to help these people with their fetish.”
Schoenbeck said sex trafficking victims were an example he thought of who would be negatively impacted by the bill. He said the victims would be called fraudulent voters by provisions in SB-124, which would require county auditors to investigate more on registered voters’ listed home addresses.
“Is it really my job to determine how many people are allowed to live in a single family dwelling?” Lyman County Auditor Deb Halverson said. “That is not a determination that I feel comfortable or confident making and under no way could that lead to accurate determinations every single time.”
South Dakota campground owners also opposed SB-124. Greg Kulesa, shareholder and manager for Dakota Post mail forwarder in Sioux Falls, told lawmakers his business has 5,200 customers and 4,000 of them are registered voters in South Dakota.
“The vast majority come from the RV industry. They have no residence anywhere else. They travel all across the US and are looking for a place to vote,” Kulesa said. “While we are in favor of election integrity and strong voter registration laws, we believe there are better ways to go about this without damaging South Dakota economically and destroying the mail forwarding industry in South Dakota.”
Frye-Mueller said the bill would be a way to “clean up the voter rolls so that people can’t vote from an address they don’t live at.”
“We’ve presented lots of evidence. We have mountains of affidavits. This is honest to God, real legitimate evidence of fraud and cheating in our elections,” Pollema said. “South Dakota, as of September 2022, has 33,909 registered, active registered voters who have filed a permanent change of address with the NCOA (National Change of Address) so they don’t live where their voter registration says. If we do this more than once every four years that will catch some of these issues.”
Other proponents testified going door-to-door to see if people registered to vote at a certain address still lived at the listed address.
To register to vote in South Dakota, a person just needs to be a United States citizen, 18 years old on or before an election and reside in South Dakota. South Dakota residency laws allow a person to spend one night in the state to qualify for residency.
Halverson said county auditors already send out notifications to voters who don’t vote as part of voter registration list maintenance.
“That happens every two years in odd-numbered, off-election years,” Halverson said.
Weible told lawmakers he had evidence of people who had died before they received an absentee ballot, and a spouse or child cast the absentee ballot on their behalf. Weible also said he had evidence of three instances where someone walked in and voted after the registered voter’s death. Weible told lawmakers he was unaware of any of his dead voter cases being prosecuted at this point.
In his motion to defeat SB-123, Schoenbeck said people need to trust local elected officials.
“They do a good job,” Schoenbeck said. “These bills can keep coming but I would hope we will have the intestinal fortitude to fight this big government, more government effort to waste our property tax dollars.”