PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — After overseeing a successful 2020 election, tested by both the COVID-19 pandemic and extra national attention on election security, South Dakota’s Secretary of State Steve Barnett wants to add another service for current and future voters. 

Barnett and the State Board of Elections introduced Senate Bill 24, which would “provide for voter registration through an online voter registration system provided by the Office of the Secretary of State.”

South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett.

If SB 24 were to pass this session and be signed into law by the governor, South Dakota would be the 42nd state in the country to allow voters the ability to update voter registrations online and register to vote online. 

“Right now we’re one of nine states without that ability,” Barnett said, who added online voter registration would also save some costs because of fewer face-to-face interactions.

“We’ve got roughly 582,000 registered voters in South Dakota right now, both active and inactive. This would just give folks a chance to do it online in the convenience of their home,” he said.

A similar proposal for creating online voter registration passed the South Dakota House 41-26 last year, but the bill died in the Senate State Affairs committee by a 7-2 vote. The new bill, SB 24, will first be heard in the same committee it failed last year. The first hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday in Room 414 at the Capitol in Pierre. 

Barnett and members of his staff in the Secretary of State’s office plan to testify on the bill’s behalf and answer any questions or concerns. Last year, Barnett noted there was no opposition testimony against online voter registration. 

In Thursday’s news conference with Republican leadership, Republican Majority Leader Gary Cammack (R-Union Center) said additional national attention on election security will “attract a lot of discussion.”  

“The committee process will bring all those viewpoints to light,” Cammack, who chairs the Senate State Affairs committee, said. 

Republican leadership meets with the media Thursday morning.

House Majority Leader Kent Peterson said he has not looked specifically at SB 24 but said “first and foremost, you are going to look at the integrity of the system.”  

Peterson added everyone will need to feel safe and comfortable with it. 

“The discussion will be had,” Peterson said. “We’ll see it in the House if it makes it that far.” 

Any person who wants to register to vote through the county auditor’s office right now just needs either the last four digits of a social security number or a valid South Dakota driver’s license. With online voter registration, Barnett said both would be required.   

“I’d argue it is more secure because you need both,” Barnett said. “That argument (less secure), to me, doesn’t hold a lot of water.” 

Voter registration security 

In South Dakota, voters need to prove they are a person who is a United States citizen, lives in South Dakota, is at least 18-years-old, not convicted of a felony or judged mentally incompetent by a court of law.  

Highlighting online voter registration would require two steps — both a social security number and a valid South Dakota driver’s license — Barnett calls the online system more secure. 

“It is secure,” Barnett said, who added people can renew driver’s license online, get vehicle tags online as well as get a hunting or fishing licenses online. “We just want to provide a service to South Dakotans in a secure manner.” 

Barnett said all different generations have different views on online registration. He expects a variety of differing views from lawmakers on Friday.

Currently, all potential voter registrations can be cross reference by statewide vital records and the justice systems to make sure the person is listed alive and not convicted of a felony. The same would be true for online registrations.

Barnett said there’s roughly 50,000 South Dakotans who are eligible to register to vote but have not registered. Allowing for online voter registration might help that number go down a little, Barnett said, but he also stressed online registration will allow already registered voters to update addresses. 

“A lot of people don’t think about updating their voting registration address,” Barnett said, adding about 20 percent of addresses on the voter rolls are inaccurate. “This would give voters a tool to update their addresses.” 

He said both statewide candidates and legislative candidates would enjoy the benefit of more updated voter rolls. 

“Any time you can have updated voter rolls that’s huge,” Barnett said. “This is a good opportunity for South Dakotans to take advantage of.”