PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A state lawmaker suggested Wednesday the South Dakota Secretary of State should mail absentee-ballot applications for the November 3 general election to the more than 400,000 registered voters who haven’t requested them yet.
Senator Susan Wismer, a Democrat from Britton, said it was “imperative” to encourage the broadest participation. She noted that federal COVID-19 funding would pay for the effort.
But Secretary of State Steve Barnett, a Republican, said that would be a duplication. His office mailed nearly 575,000 absentee applications ahead of the June primary covering every registered voter in South Dakota. The form included boxes to choose whether a voter wanted the ballot for the primary, the general or both.
Barnett said more than 112,000 voters requested ballots for the primary. He said 103,556 already have requested absentee ballots for the general and he expects more. Voters also can get the request form from the sdsos.gov website or their county auditor’s website, or can telephone or write their county auditor to get an absentee ballot.
Their exchange came during the meeting of the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee.
Wismer said there is a difference between having access to the Internet and being able to pay the fee to use the Internet. Barnett said he didn’t have a statistic on the difference in the two numbers for South Dakota. Wismer said that difference would be “very important” in reaching the decision about sending out applications for absentee ballots for the general election. She recalled how “frustrating” it was to mistype a character to find the right page for the Secretary of State website.
Barnett said a second mailing of absentee applications for the general election would require his office obtain a bid for printing and would need time to set the format. He said there also was the problem of mail going to addresses where voters no longer resided. He said it wouldn’t be as expensive — he estimated $5,000 or less — to continue the messaging, rather than sending the form again to people who might not want it.
Several Republican senators on the committee asked what happens if a voter casts an absentee ballot and then votes at the polling place in the same election. Kea Warne, state director of elections, said she knew of one instance, in 2016 involving an elderly voter in Davison County, during her 22 years in the Secretary of State office. She said the absentee ballot wouldn’t be counted if it happens.
Wismer said such attempts to instill fear of the possibility of duplicate ballots, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, were “very detrimental” to voter participation and democracy. “I think we ought to be careful about what we say as legislators,” Wismer said, so that democracy isn’t torn down by theories that have very little actual possibility of happening.
Representative Sue Peterson said legislators need to be able to assure constituents that all legal ballots are counted and there are safeguards against wrongdoing. “That in and of itself is a good deterrent to having things happen that we don’t want to happen,” said the Sioux Falls Republican, who chairs the committee.
Peterson suggested having a training manual for polling-place workers that could be shown to the public would be helpful and would assure legislators there is monitoring and consistent procedures throughout South Dakota’s 66 counties. She recognized county auditors are independent of the secretary of state but said they share duties.
Peterson offered the committee’s help in steering federal COVID-19 aid to county auditors for election needs. She noted there were some 6,000 more absentee ballots requested than the committee’s previous meeting on July 23.
Barnett said absentee voting opens September 18 and voter registration for the general election ends 5 p.m. local time on October 19. He said the pro-con pamphlet on the three ballot issues is posted on his office’s website.