SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Federal law requires most state governments including South Dakota to let people register to vote when they get their driver licenses or renew them. But Minnehaha County Auditor Leah Anderson says thousands of people might be taking advantage of the situation by voting in South Dakota elections while traveling the country or living in another state.

Anderson says South Dakota’s requirements for driver licenses and voter registration don’t match: A person needs to be in South Dakota as little as 24 hours to qualify for a driver license, but a person needs to be in South Dakota 30 days to register to vote.

Making matters worse, people registering to vote at a driver license station aren’t required to fill out what’s known as Box 4a on the registration application form, according to Anderson.

That part of the form says, “If you live in a rural area and do not have a street address; if your residence address is a PO Box, rural box, or general delivery; or if you have no address, please describe the physical location of your residence in writing in the space below, which may include writing the names of the streets or intersections nearest to where you live and listing any landmarks (e.g., schools, churches, stores) near where you live. If you run out of room or if you want to draw a map to pinpoint your residence and you do not have enough room in the space provided, use the back of this form.”

Anderson brought the situation to the attention of the state Board of Elections on Wednesday during a public-comment period that followed a rules hearing. Among the board’s seven current members are Secretary of State Monae Johnson (whose office oversees elections), two current county auditors and three former legislators.

State law says county auditors are in “complete charge” of voter registration duties in their respective counties.

Anderson told the board that in some instances applicants haven’t been in South Dakota for 30 days and their applications shouldn’t be processed. Anderson said she’s been sending a letter asking applicants to complete box 4a on the voter registration form. Anderson also said she hasn’t been able to get direction from the secretary of state’s office or the state Office of Attorney General, and said she was told to ask the Minnehaha County state’s attorney for direction. She said that would potentially produce a county by county patchwork of answers.

A portion of the letter that Anderson told the board she has been sending specifically covers people who live on the road. It says, “If you are a ‘full-time traveler’, providing documentation that you have stayed in the state for 30 days prior to submitting the registration form would be acceptable. Acceptable documentation could include receipts for staying at hotels or campgrounds. Complete box 4a with a description of ‘full-time traveler’ and resubmit your voter registration form to our office with proper documentation.”

KELOLAND News followed up with Anderson on Friday.

“The letter I mentioned sending, along with South Dakota Codified Law references, is sent to anyone that is newly registering to vote with a non-residential address where they have also not properly completed box 4a of the voter registration form. Meaning we have reviewed the application for eligibility and completeness and have questioned the residential status based on the address being ‘non-residential.’ This is not a new approach, and in looking back in history a similar letter was used as far back as 2014. These could be PMB (private mail box) addresses, but also hotels, campgrounds, and other non-residential establishments,” she said.

“The problem that I mentioned during public comment at the Board of Elections meeting is that when someone goes to the driver’s license station and they are a new resident, they are only required to have been in the state for 24 hours to get a driver’s license.  To register to vote they must be a resident for 30 days and meet residency requirements,” she continued. 

Anderson said the state Department of Public Safety driver license stations push through the voter registration form to the county auditor offices without knowing whether the person qualifies to be a registered voter and meets the requirements listed on the voter registration form. “They are just sending the form through. The auditor still must review the application for eligibility and completeness,” she said.

The Legislature changed voter registration law this year by adding a 30-day residency requirement in an attempt to close the loophole.

“The Legislature would be wise to re-visit this issue in the 2024 session and create legislation to address the use of non-residential and mail forwarding addresses. Our residents have every right to vote but many truly do not meet residency requirements based on our state laws,” Anderson said.

“In Minnehaha County alone we have over 10,000 registered voters that do not list a residential address but instead use a postal mailbox, campground, or hotel address,” she continued. “Some of these individuals truly were South Dakota residents that began traveling full-time. Many are seeking residential status in South Dakota to avoid taxes in other states.”