South Dakota Democrats Explain Absentee Ballot Process and Urge Voters to Vote Early By Mail
In 2018, only 64.89% of registered voters in South Dakota turned out to vote in the general election.
One can only imagine what that number will look like if there is continuing fear of COVID-19. In 2020, we can’t leave anything to chance or until the last minute.
During the greatest public health threat to our nation in 100 years, we can’t assume that it will be safe to go to the polls on Election Day, or even that our regular polling places will be open. We certainly can’t assume that our elections will run smoothly, and we don’t want South Dakota’s June 2 (or Nov. 3) election to look like the debacle in Wisconsin earlier in the month.
So how do we meet the unprecedented challenges of this critical presidential election year?
We vote. By mail. Early.
That means taking full advantage of our ability to cast an absentee ballot. It may not be a perfect tool, but it is a powerful one. State law says that every registered South Dakota voter can vote early absentee, no excuse needed, beginning 46 days before a scheduled election.
Friday, April 17, was the first day of absentee voting for the June primary elections.
During normal times, that means that voters can drop by their county auditor’s office in person, verify their voter registration, fill out an absentee ballot request form, show their ID, fill out their ballot and turn it in. But many county auditor’s offices are already closed in South Dakota due to COVID-19. How many more will close and when they will reopen is at the mercy of the fatal, highly infectious disease blooming across the state.
That leaves Plan B.
Secretary of State Steve Barnett’s office will proactively mail absentee ballot request forms (as exemplified in the image above from KOTA.com) to current registered South Dakota voters as listed in the state’s voter registration database. Several counties, including Meade, Douglas and Perkins, are mailing the forms independently to voters in those counties.
Voters statewide who have already requested an absentee ballot will not receive the application. The state mailings are to go out sometime between April 17-24.
Normally, absentee ballot applications must either be notarized or accompanied by a photocopy of an acceptable photo ID cards. State election officials are temporarily allowing voters without access to a copy machine or access to a notary to take a photo of their ID using their phone or camera and email it to their county auditor after mailing their application.
State Democratic lawmakers proposed an emergency bill at the end of the 2020 legislative session that would have given voters the temporary option of signing a personal identification affidavit. That effort was defeated largely along party lines.
The unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic and a possible “second wave” has voters uneasy not only not about the primary and rescheduled local elections on June 2. We’re also justifiably worried about the general election in November.
The good news: you can simply check the “All” box in the “Select the Elections” section of the application to receive ballots ahead of each election on the Secretary of State’s calendar that you’re eligible to cast a vote in.
Know the steps you need to take to be able to cast a safe vote well before June 2.
Make sure you’re registered to vote. You can check online at https://vip.sdsos.gov/viplogin.aspx. If you still need to register or change your voter registration, find information and download a registration form at https://sdsos.gov/elections-voting/voting/register-to-vote/default.aspx, complete and submit. The last day to register for the June 2 primary is May 18.
Watch for your absentee ballot application to arrive in late April or early May. If you don’t receive an application automatically, begin the process to request an absentee ballot at https://sdsos.gov/elections-voting/voting/absentee-voting.aspx.
Complete the absentee ballot application when it arrives. Remember to check the “All” box.
Include a photocopy of an acceptable ID with the application or take a photo of your ID with your phone or camera and email it to your county auditor
Mail the application and ID photocopy to your county auditor.
Once an application, has been received, processed and accepted by your auditor, a ballot will be mailed to you.
California Sen. and former Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris introduced the VoteSafe Act of 2020 last week to expand voting by mail and early voting over health worries concerning in-person voting at polling stations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Donald Trump has rejected calls for national vote-by-mail, falsely claiming that the process is rife with fraud.
In reality, the five states with full vote-by-mail have the lowest levels of voter fraud in the nation. Trump himself cast an absentee ballot in the Florida primary.
Still, South Dakotans don’t need to make the terrible choice that faced Wisconsin voters in early April, when a cynical Republican ploy to protect a GOP-held state supreme court seat forced them to risk exposing themselves and others to a deadly virus in order to cast a ballot. We don’t need to put ourselves or our poll workers, who are often older and more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19, at additional risk.
To do that, we’ve got to vote by mail. Because we can’t leave anything to chance.
Nikki Gronli of Sioux Falls, South Dakota Democratic Party Vice Chair