SD Bill Would Limit Absentee Voting – Even Though No One’s Complained

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The South Dakota House recently passed a bill that would shorten absentee voting by two weeks – without any apparent complaint about the current window and with significant opposition from state and local election officials. The Mitchell Republic has more:

The House on Thursday, Feb. 21, narrowly passed a bill that would shorten the window for South Dakotans to vote via absentee ballot from 46 days to 32.

House Majority Leader and prime sponsor of House Bill 1178 Rep. Lee Qualm, R-Platte, said the majority of information on candidates and ballot measures emerges in the final weeks leading up to an election. Shortening the early voting window will help voters make more informed choices, he told legislators before they cast a 36-33 vote.

The bill would not apply to South Dakotans serving in the military due to federal law [which requires that ballots be sent to military and overseas citizens no later than 45 days before a federal election].

Remarkably, the original version of the bill would have shortened the window by a month:

Qualm’s original version of the bill shortened the window more dramatically to 14 days. Before passing it by a 11-2 vote, the House State Affairs committee on Thursday, Feb. 14, amended it to begin early voting on the first Friday of October prior to a general election. Qualm said Thursday he doesn’t know how the bill would apply to special elections.

Whatever the change, state and local election officials are opposed – and the Governor seems less than enthusiastic:

The Secretary of State’s office opposed the bill, and multiple representatives on Thursday said their local auditors oppose it, as well. [Deputy SoS Kea Warne told the Brooks Register the office hasn’t had a phone call from any voter criticizing the absentee voting timeframe.]

Rep. Linda Duba, D-Sioux Falls, told legislators that auditors in Minnehaha County, which has the largest concentration of voters in the state, are already strapped for time to count absentee ballots. House Minority Whip Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, said his local auditors opposed the bill because voters living on reservations, who sometimes have to vote via absentee ballot due to their location, would be disproportionately impacted by the bill.

“Right now, [the window] works,” Lesmeister said. “There’s nothing broken with it.”

Qualm said he doesn’t see how shortening the window would disenfranchise voters, and that 32 days is a “very reasonable time frame.”

“I believe there’s no way it will hurt anybody who votes,” he said. “People will go vote if they want to vote. I don’t see how this hinders anyone at all.”

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem at a Thursday, Feb. 14, news conference didn’t take a firm stance on HB 1178, but said, “We want to make sure everyone gets the chance to vote.”

It appears that for some policymakers nationwide, the idea of too much absentee/by-mail is a problem they think needs to be solved. Given how important those ballots are to some voters – not to mention the federal government, which rarely hesitates to initiate legal action against any effort to restrict to limit voting by military servicemembers and overseas citizens – their sense of the problem is misplaced, as is the proposed solution. Given the apparent lack of support, and likely litigation by private or government plaintiffs, I’d be very surprised if this bill makes it to final passage, let alone implementation.

Stay tuned …

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