SD Secretary of State Monae Johnson wants “summer study” committee to look at election security

Johnson, 60, went from a political outsider to the state’s top election official in just a few months. Now, she says she is focused on trying to pass a post-election audit bill during her first few years in office.
Johnson, 60, went from a political outsider to the state’s top election official in just a few months.
Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 9:48 PM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. - From receptionist, to the state’s top election official, Monae Johnson has worked in and around the Secretary of State’s office for more than a decade.

“I think it is an amazing perspective to have, because we have always had so many documents that come in daily,” Johnson said of her unique experience.

But for the mother of six, three of which are adopted, the road from political obscurity to Secretary of State was not always glorious.

Johnson, 60, faced scrutiny along the way in part for her opinions on the 2020 presidential election, and because of comments made about “hand counting ballots.”

Johnson says at times she feels she has been misconstrued. Wednesday, she said she believes South Dakota has free and fair elections, and said she does not want to hand count every ballot.

She’s also dealing with politics within her department. Johnson has removed a number of staffers from her office since she was sworn in for the first time in December.

“I guess you learn who your friends are and who is not when you do something like this,” Johnson said in an interview with KOTA Territory/Dakota News Now. “Who you can trust and who you can’t... For me, I was just putting myself out there. I have experience. I really want to work hard, I wanted to go to Pierre. And I just put myself out there. From there, you see who is willing to come alongside you, back you, and so forth. And you can easily see the ones who weren’t happy I joined the race, too.”

But the Rapid City native believes things are evening out. She feels confident in the staff she has brought on so far.

And while she does not intend to bring any bills this session, Johnson plans to host a “summer study” committee this year focused on election security. Johnson says that committee would be made up of county auditors, state lawmakers, staff from the Secretary of State’s office, and others.

Ultimately, she would like to use that committee to chart the course for a post-election audit bill in 2024. Previous efforts to pass such a bill have come up short in the state legislature, as recently as 2022.

South Dakota is just one of a few states that does not currently conduct a post-election audit.

“It is a “summer study” hosted by our office, for the post-election audit,” Johnson explained. “And, there are many varieties of post-election audits and how you can do them. I want to get the input of county auditors, different groups and organizations, and legislators over the summer. I think by bringing them all together, we can present a good package, with other election bills, and present that next session.”

And for Johnson, the buck stops at the Secretary of State’s office. She hopes to serve two terms, something that hasn’t happened since her former boss, Chris Nelson, did it from 2003 to 2011.

Then, she wants to retire to the Black Hills.

“We will have to find somebody to train, that is the way it should be,” Johnson said of her long-term plan. “The Deputy Secretary should end up being the next Secretary of State. I just want to do this job, and do it well...”

Though Johnson says she isn’t bringing any bills this year, she wants to kill online voter registration if it comes up. Former Secretary of State Steve Barnett filed the bill every year of his four year tenure, causing angst amongst many Republicans.

So far this year, no such online voter registration bill has been filed.