South Dakota Republicans move to pass sweeping election security bills

Lead Republicans in South Dakota are advancing a package of bills that they say would strengthen security of the 2024 elections, with hearings that began this week.

The package of bills announced last week by Republican House and Senate leaders addresses issues such as runoff elections, recounts and ballot legitimacy. While lawmakers say they believe South Dakota elections are among the most secure in the country, they also say the system could be made stronger, and they are hoping the new proposals will help alleviate distrust.

‘South Dakota has an excellent election system but we can always be better,’ said Republican Rep. Tony Venhuizen, who proposed that the timing of runoff elections for general elections should be extended to 10 weeks instead of eight, to avoid conflict with the deadline to certify ballots. ‘It’s a pretty small piece of the puzzle in the scheme of things but I think it’s a good issue to head off if we can.’

The package of bills from Rep. Will Mortenson and Sen. Casey Crabtree includes language changes that would also allow candidates outside the primary election to run. In addition, candidates tied for second place would be required to run in the runoff election alongside the first-place candidates if the margin is less than 35%.

When it comes to recounts, Rep. Amber Arlint proposed establishing partisan recount boards that would ensure the state’s dominant party has more representation. Registered Democrats would comprise a Democratic candidate’s recount board and a registered Republicans would comprise a Republican’s board.

This modification stems from Arlint’s personal experience. She won her position against two Democrats by so close a margin that a recount took place. Two registered Democrats and one registered Republican were among those counting her ballots.

‘Recount boards can impact the outcome of an election. They make judgment calls and they can be charged with interpreting voter intent,’ Arlint said Monday.

The package also includes a bill from Republican Rep. John Sjaarda that would extend the requirement that counted ballots be stored for six months — up from the current period of one month — before being destroyed. He said retaining certified ballots for a longer period would address unresolved election disputes.

Jordan Mason, director of the far-right State Freedom Caucus Network, advocated for the bill. He pointed to current legal cases contesting election outcomes that lack evidence due to ballot destruction.

In the wake of former President Donald Trump’s lies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, lawmakers across the country brought thousands of bills to change how elections are run. There is no evidence there was widespread fraud or other wrongdoing in the 2020 election.

Republican Rep. Tyler Tordsen on Wednesday cited concerns over electronic balloting systems and proposed modifying existing tabulation laws. Tordsen’s bill would upgrade policy to outline voting tablet verification policies. From public demonstration notifications to post-election safeguarding, the bill would increase guidelines for how a test is to be conducted, how test results are communicated, how any errors are to be resolved and how a tablet is to be sealed after an election.

Among the minority of proposals rejected was Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba’s attempt to address redistricting. Currently, multiple counties in the state share voting precincts, which means multiple elections take place at a single voting location. These situations have led to poll worker confusion, such as misplaced ballots, which have led to integrity concerns. Nesiba’s bill outlined requirements to establish voting precincts that ‘represent the interests and conveniences of voters in the county.’

‘When we’re putting poll workers into this difficult situation where they’re having to run two elections instead of one at their precinct place, it allows for the possibility that more errors will happen, and it plays into this false sentiment voter fraud,’ Nesiba said.

More issues dealing with election issues passed through the House State Affairs Committee on Friday, including a measure to regulate absentee voting that makes absentee ballot drop-boxes a misdemeanor and shortens the period a voter can request an absentee ballot. Other electoral system proposals that were scheduled for hearing Friday were postponed.

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