S.D. Legislature will be asked to allow registered voters to make changes electronically

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) –The South Dakota Board of Elections voted unanimously Monday to propose legislation that would let registered voters in the state update their information online.

The measure will be offered in the 2022 session that opens January 11.

“A number of states (45) have the ability to do this,” Secretary of State Steve Barnett told other board members.

The Legislature blocked his office’s attempt in the 2021 session at online voter registration.

The Senate voted 21-13 for a version allowing registered voters to make changes online but specifically prohibiting online registration.

The House State Affairs Committee failed 6-7 to pass a more-amended version that allowed online registration in some instances.

Barnett said he sensed an appetite among lawmakers for allowing registered voters to make changes online.

The board also adopted several proposed rules. One set will allow victims in some instances to request their voter registration information be kept from public view so their locations aren’t readily known.

The secured-registration rules come in the wake of the Legislature, without opposition, approving SB 102 sponsored by Senator Lee Schoenbeck.

The board also heard from officials for Disability Rights South Dakota. Executive director Tim Neyhart said the organization will ask the Legislature to make absentee voting easier for people with vision problems by offering access to a special ballot.

Neyhart acknowledged that the Legislature has tended to be very focused on voting in person and registering in person.

“I’m telling you because we intend to move forward,” he said.

“It really came to light with COVID,” said C.J. Moit, PAVA director for South Dakota Disability Rights.

Because of COVID-19 and the availability of federal funding, Barnett’s office sent letters to all South Dakota registered voters before the June 2020 primaries offering absentee ballots. Voters who completed an absentee ballot application form could mark whether they wanted to receive absentee ballots for all elections or the general election.

The House in the 2021 session in turn voted 52-16 for legislation, sponsored by Representative Drew Dennert, that would have banned the Secretary of State from sending an absentee ballot unless the voter had requested it. The Senate State Affairs Committee killed it 9-0.

South Dakota had 18,643 people age 18 and older with vision difficulties, according to U.S. Census data for 2019.

“Maybe with the right information the Legislature will be comfortable with it,” Neyhart said.

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