SD State Senate Committee takes up online voter registration

The SD Senate State Affairs committee altered a bill intended to allow for online voter registration. The amended bill only allows residents to update their address on their voter registration.
South Dakota State Capitol (FILE)
South Dakota State Capitol (FILE)(DAKOTA NEWS NOW)
Published: Jan. 22, 2021 at 8:47 PM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Online voter registration appears off the table again for South Dakota.

The South Dakota Senate Committee on State Affairs watered down Senate Bill 24. In its original form, the bill was intended to allow residents of South Dakota to register to vote online. South Dakota is one of only nine states in the country where you cannot register to vote online.

South Dakota has 22,344 eligible voters not currently registered.

Secretary of State Steve Barnett, a Republican, had brought the bill before the legislature a number of times, along with the State Board of Elections. However, they have never successfully passed it, or any version of it.

Barnett was just one of many to testify in favor of the bill. Many other people and organizations also testified in favor of the bill, included the AARP, Native American activists, and disability rights advocates. No one testified against the bill.

The committee opted to adopt an amendment that would water down the bill, making it so that residents would only be able to update their home address on their voter registration online. The vote on that amendment was six to three, with Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission), Sen. Kyle Schoenfish (R-Scotland), and Sen. Michael Rohl (R-Aberdeen) voting against the watered down amendment, in favor of the original bill. All of those who voted in favor of the amended version were Republicans.

The amendment was brought forth by State Sen. Jim Bolin (R-Canton), a long time opponent of online voter registration.

Bolin has not yet responded to a request for comment regarding his opposition to the bill, and online voter registration in general.

“I do not think there is any question about the fact that we have fair elections in South Dakota,” said Bolin. “I don’t think there is any real question about the fact that testimony on this bill, we haven’t had any real questions of voter fraud.”

In what appeared to be an argument against the bill in its original form, Bolin said that most South Dakotans do not have to travel that far to their county courthouse.

“I believe the current system works well. We have a substantial number of people registered to vote already in South Dakota... By my calculations the furthest anyone has to travel to get to their county courthouse in South Dakota is about 120 to 130 miles in Meade County.”

Sen. Heinert unsuccessfully urged the committee to vote against Bolin’s amendment.

“I urge the committee to oppose this amendment. This amendment completely guts the bill... we all know it, everyone on the screen knows it, everyone on the committee knows it. Let’s vote on the bill that the Republican Secretary of State brought before us.” Heinert would be the only member of the committee who voted against the amended version of the bill.

Senator Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) who introduced the original bill to the committee, also voted in favor of the amended version. He said that given the evolution of technology, the day was coming for online voter registration, but it was not today. He did not provide clarity on why he felt it was too early to have online voter registration.

“That train is coming... this may not be the best year to do it because of the election.” Schoenbeck said. State Sen. Casey Crabtree (R-Madison) echoed Schoenbeck’s sentiment.

After the committee hearing, Secretary Barnett said although the amended version was a “step in the right direction,” the original bill had plenty of safeguards in place to prevent any sort of fraudulent activity.

The proposed bill made it so that registering online would require a social security card and a state ID. You are only required to have one of those to register to vote in person.

Barnett listed the safeguards that were written into the original bill.

“We feel that to have a valid drivers licenses, or a valid non-driver ID card issued in the state of South Dakota, and your social security number and date of birth, and cross-referencing with (different) state agencies... Department of Health, Vital Records, Unified Judicial System, Department of Public Safety, and Social Security. We felt those were appropriate and reasonable safe guards.”

“We feel the safeguards were in place to pass the bill as is.”

The amended bill will now head to the full state senate for a vote. As it currently stands, its likely to pass as is.

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