Board of Elections proposes changing SD laws, including online registration

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The state Board of Elections wants the South Dakota Legislature to change some laws, including creation of an online system for voter registration and making private the year when a registered voter was born.

Board members accepted four proposals from the South Dakota Secretary of State Office at their meeting Tuesday. State lawmakers open the 2020 session January 14.

One proposal would allow South Dakota to establish a statewide online voter-registration system.

A person would need either a valid driver license or a non-driver ID card issued by the state of South Dakota.

Another proposal would remove public access to a registered voter’s year of birth.

State election official Kea Warne said a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official recommended the information be kept secret by the state government because it could provide “a missing link” for identity theft.

The day and month of birth have been restricted from public access since 2008. A registered voter’s driver license number and Social Security number have been off-limits in South Dakota since 2001.

A third change would add the word “runoff” to replace “secondary” regarding an election. This would make the section consistent with previous changes made to state election laws.

The fourth proposal would set a 300-word limit on a pro or con statement about each ballot measure. Each side gives a statement to the secretary of state for publication in the ballot-information pamphlet.

Warne said the 300-word limit has been an internal policy.

The board also held a rules hearing Tuesday.

Members deferred action on proposed rules regarding people who gather signatures on ballot-measure petitions, because a lawsuit has been filed in federal court. 

The board repealed a 2003 rule that allowed electronic voting with paperless ballots. 

An online voter registration system would cost around $25,000 to set up. Warne said a driver license or state-issued ID would be necessary. “We have to have a way to verify their information that they’re sending through the system,” she said.

Deputy Secretary of State Jason Lutz said 38 states currently provide online registration. Board member Linda Lea Viken of Rapid City, a Democratic former legislator, said she worried about a stolen driver license.

“This is only to register to vote. This isn’t to vote,” Warne said.

Clay County Auditor Carri Crum, who’s a board member, said people who register in her office don’t show their IDs.

“There’s multiple ways to register fraudulently. I don’t think this makes it any easier,” said board member Mike Buckingham of Rapid City, a Republican former legislator.

Eliminating the birth-year as public information brought the most debate of the four proposals.

“Fine with me!” Viken joked.

Board member Rick Knobe of Sioux Falls said he’s concerned about identity theft. “This might be a limiting factor,” Knobe said.

Citizen Bruce Danielson of Sioux Falls, whose specialties include voter-data analysis, said he was concerned about losing the year because sometimes two people of the same name live at the same address. He said there were questions in 2014 about people possibly double-voting.

Danielson predicted eliminating the birth-year could lead to people losing their right to vote. “There’s no other way to verify it,” Danielson said. “I don’t mind birth date, but birth year is important.”

Viken countered that birth-year information helps lead to identities being stolen and election workers can get the information through a phone call to the county courthouse where voter-registration files are kept.

Danielson said the year helps demographers understand esoteric but predictive things, such as South Dakota’s peak year of voters right now are people born in 1952.

“We work hard to keep that information available,” Danielson said. “For use by candidates and political parties? Is that its prime use?” Viken asked. “Yes,” Danielson replied. He added, “It’s just one of those fascinating fields of study that I have.”

Crum, the Clay County auditor, said South Dakota is doing “everything we can” to secure elections and she didn’t see why the federal department’s recommendation wouldn’t be taken. Grant County Auditor Karen Layher, another board member, agreed.

Minnehaha County Auditor Bob Litz, another board member, said he could see it either way but would like “to err on the side of caution.” “I’m not sure this is a watershed item on the cyber-security agenda,” Litz added.

Knobe settled the matter with his observation that the public and the Legislature and the governor can decide it next year.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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