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Changes to Online Voter Registration Plan for SD Criticized

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Advocates for boosting voter access in South Dakota were hoping an online registration system would pass in the current legislative session. But so far, only a watered-down version has advanced. (Adobe Stock)
Advocates for boosting voter access in South Dakota were hoping an online registration system would pass in the current legislative session. But so far, only a watered-down version has advanced. (Adobe Stock)
January 25, 2021

PIERRE, S.D. -- The South Dakota Senate could soon consider a bill concerning online voter registration, but the measure is a far cry from what advocates hoped for.

Late last week, a Senate committee made changes to a measure that would have allowed creation of an online system for South Dakotans to register to vote. The amendments would only permit voters to update their addresses online.

Cante Heart, community organizer and member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, testified in support of the bill and noted the distance many members have to travel when taking care of their registration in person, and how it added to the challenges they already face.

"And so, with many challenges facing our communities, especially in poverty, we have many hardships we have to endure," Heart explained.

One GOP committee member said the current process is sufficient and produces fair elections.

However, those opposed to the changes say the original plan would have added another option after voters still found ways to participate in the 2020 election as the pandemic threw many obstacles their way. South Dakota is one of only nine states that doesn't have such a system.

The proposal for a full online registration system was brought by Republican Secretary of State Steve Barnett.

Prior to the committee vote, he testified anyone who might be concerned about safety should recognize that his plan had enough safeguards in place.

"You'll note that a valid South Dakota driver's license or non-driver I.D. card is required to access the system," Barnett emphasized.

According to Barnett's office, South Dakota has more than 50,000 eligible voters who are considered inactive.

Supporters of the original plan say the extra option still would be worth it to reach that extra group of residents.

Barnett added even if the amended bill is adopted, it's a step in the right direction by allowing address changes for those currently registered.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - SD