“Election integrity” and “ballot security” have increasingly become part of the political lexicon since 2020 when former President Donald Trump started making unfounded claims about widespread voter fraud.
And though the validity of South Dakota’s presidential election outcomes have never been in question, that hasn’t prevented auditors and the Secretary of State’s Office here from facing the same pressures their counterparts in other states do to tighten up election rules, transparency and reporting requirements.
That’s why the South Dakota Legislature this year adopted a series of election reform measures aimed at strengthening the security of South Dakota elections and increasing voter confidence in the state’s election laws, according to backers of the changes.
“We took a secure and user-friendly election system and made it even better,” House Majority Leader Will Mortenson said. “We worked as a big team to keep South Dakota the model for election integrity and voter access.”
Here’s a look at some of the election-related legislation set to become law July 1.
New laws will require school boards, cities and counties to promote upcoming elections and regularly clear their voter-rolls of ineligible or inactive voters.
Also in Senate Bill 140 is a requirement that the county auditors categorize all non-party affiliated voters as independents and verify in writing once a year that they’ve stayed active in updating their voter rolls. That means removing inactive voter registrations and felons and the deceased — and probably a few RVers.
Tougher residency requirements
Right now, statute requires someone spend one night each calendar year in South Dakota to be eligible to vote in state elections. But Senate Bill 139 requires a voter in state elections be a resident of South Dakota for at least 30 days.
Unmanned ballot drop boxes will be prohibited in South Dakota going forward.
During the 2020 election, they sprang up in some counties as a result of social distancing. But House Bill 1165 stipulates that any drop boxes designated for election ballots must be supervised by an election worker or law enforcement officer.
Testing tabulation equipment
The Legislature unanimously passed House Bill 1124, which updated best practices for testing electronic tabulation equipment for Election Day paper ballots. The measure also requires the equipment to be locked, sealed and unused between testing certification and election night.
Sen. Sydney Davis and Rep. Tyler Tordsen carried the legislation.
Election reforms also include post-election audits
Senate Bill 160 created a post-election audit process to examine a sampling of each county’s primary and general election results. The audits will entail manually counting of a certain number of ballots, with results to be compared with machine counts.
Ranked-choice voting outlawed
An election-counting system used in other states known as ranked-choice voting is no longer an option for South Dakota governments.
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While the method of determining outcome elections through a voter ranking system isn’t used anywhere in South Dakota, lawmakers say a preemptive prohibition of ranked-choice voting is necessary after the system has proved confusing to voters and “reduces voter confidence in the process and outcomes of our elections,” according to GOP leadership in the Legislature.
Senate Bill 55 passed on a mostly party-line vote.