PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — After he won office as South Dakota Secretary of State in 2018, Steve Barnett kept all of the people in its Elections Division.
“Maintaining a consistent level of knowledge and experience amongst our staff was important. We’re very fortunate to have the team that we do,” Barnett told KELOLAND News. He recently answered questions from Capitol Bureau reporter Bob Mercer about election processes and voting security.
What roles does the South Dakota Secretary of State office play in state and local elections?
Our office is tasked with the certification of primary and general election ballots, including ballot question language, which is provided to the county auditors.
We also provide training and election materials to county auditors, municipal finance officers, school business managers, and other government subdivision election officials, such as special district boards.
In addition, our office assists candidates, media, and the public on election questions.
We also developed and maintain the Statewide Voter Registration File and Election System.
Who sets those roles?
Our roles are set by federal and state statute.
Approximately how many pages of state laws govern elections in South Dakota?
There are numerous titles in South Dakota Codified Law that pertain to elections.
Title 12 is a codification of statutes dealing with primary and general elections, voter registration and campaign finance requirements in South Dakota. Title 12 currently contains 25 separate chapters, each containing numerous statutes.
For example, Chapter 12-4 is comprised of 52 statutes. Within the South Dakota Codified Laws book published by the state Legislature, Title 12 was printed on 395 pages.
In addition to Title 12, the following statutes also provide guidance on elections in the state:
SDCL 2-1 Initiative and Referendum
SDCL 6-8B Bond Elections
SDCL Title 7 Counties
SDCL Title 8 Townships
SDCL Title 9 Municipal Government
SDCL Title 13 School Districts
SDCL Title 16 Courts and Judiciary
SDCL 31-12A County Road Districts
SDCL 34-11A Ambulance
SDCL 34-31A Rural Fire Protection Districts
SDCL 34A-5 Sanitary Districts
SDCL 38-8 Conservation Districts
SDCL 46A-3B Water Development Districts
SDCL 46A-4 Irrigation
SDCL 46A-9 Water User Districts
SDCL 46A-14 Watershed Districts
SDCL 46A-18 Water Project Districts and
SDCL 46A-19 River Basin Natural Resource Districts.
That’s a lot to track! As I understand South Dakota elections, there are 66 counties but two of them — Todd and Oglala Lakota — run their state and local elections through neighboring counties. What roles do the 64 county auditors play in South Dakota elections?
County auditors are responsible for the administration of all local county, special, primary and general elections in our state. County auditors also process and maintain voter registration for their respective counties. Their election role is governed by federal and state law.
During the June 2018 statewide primary elections, Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and her staff straightened out difficulties some counties had. What happened?
Certain counties using e-pollbooks encountered issues during the early morning due to a technical error.
At that time, paper pollbooks were not required to be present within each precinct or vote center using e-pollbooks, so voters at those locations experienced a delay until the technical issue was resolved.
Is there any reason to expect a repeat of those difficulties in 2020? If not, why?
No. We have instituted several new procedures to prevent this issue from happening again, including the passage of House Bill 1027 during the 2019 Legislative Session.
This bill mandates counties using e-pollbooks or vote centers to also have printed paper pollbooks on hand as a backup measure.
We have also implemented a new load-testing procedure for all e-pollbook vote-center counties to ensure that the vendor server can successfully operate. This testing is performed prior to each primary and general election.
Election security has become a significant issue in many states and in Congress, but not in South Dakota — other than news organizations wanting results ASAP. What makes South Dakota somewhat different?
South Dakota uses paper ballots for every election. Our state does not have any internet-based voting systems, including our ballot marking devices and tabulating machines, which are never connected to the Internet.
The state Board of Elections works with the Secretary of State’s office in recommending changes for the Legislature to consider. The board also considers rules that implement South Dakota’s elections laws. There have been varying levels of involvement under the various secretaries of state during the past few decades. How do you see the board’s role?
I view the board’s role as an integral one for the successful administration of elections in our state. The board is comprised of members with unique professional backgrounds across the political spectrum, which offers important insight for any potential opportunities for our election processes.
The state board met October 30. One of the board’s decisions was to certify various election devices that your staff members have recently been testing. What federal and state laws and state rules must the devices meet?
Please note the guiding statute and administrative rule for the certification process in 12-17B-2. It covers requirements for automatic tabulating, electronic ballot marking, and election voting equipment systems.
(Barnett also cited state administrative rules in chapter 5:02:09:02.)
One focus of election security is whether devices are tamper-proof. Do South Dakota’s election devices meet that standard?
Yes. All ballot marking devices and tabulating machines must pass rigorous federal testing before going through the state certification program and testing.
Who is responsible for paying for devices in South Dakota?
Beginning with the federal Help America Vote Act — known as HAVA — in 2002, federal funding has been available for the purchase of tabulating machines and ballot marking devices for our counties.
Most recently, the federal Election Assistance Commission awarded South Dakota $3 million as part of the 2018 HAVA election security grants.
This funding has been used to ensure that all 66 South Dakota counties will be using updated tabulating equipment and ballot marking devices for the 2020 election cycle.
States allow early voting. When will early voting occur in 2020 in South Dakota?
South Dakota law allows for an absentee voting period leading up to elections. Registered voters may cast an absentee ballot in-person or request a ballot by mail.
Absentee voting will begin on April 17th for the June 2020 primary election and September 18th for the November 2020 general election.
In what counties in South Dakota will early voting be allowed to occur in more than one location?
Five counties applied for the HAVA in-person absentee voting site grant: Buffalo, Dewey, Jackson, Oglala Lakota and Todd. Their applications were approved by the HAVA Grant Board during the July 29 meeting.
Additional counties may also open alternate locations that would be paid for by the county. How are those additional locations funded?
The five counties listed above will use funding from the HAVA grant.
One person, one vote sounds simple. But the processes in an election are highly complex and rely on detailed coordination between your office and county auditors and candidates and local election workers. Is there anything else about the 2020 elections that you would like to emphasize?
The integrity of our elections is a foremost priority for our office. Our staff is working diligently with federal, state, and local partners to ensure secure and fair elections for our state.
An area of emphasis for our office is conveying the potential threat of election disinformation and misinformation to our citizens.
As we’ve seen in past elections nationally, bad actors attempt to manipulate election results by influencing the public with dishonest information about the voting process or individual candidates, primarily using social media platforms.
We’re urging the public to be aware of this threat and cautious of information you may become exposed to.
To ensure you’re receiving the correct information pertaining to election processes in our state, please contact our office (605-773-3537 voice or 605-773-6580 fax or email firstname.lastname@example.org) or your local county auditor.