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South Dakota

There are a wide variety of issue areas in which South Dakota has opportunities to improve voter access and system integrity and continue on the progress made in 2020. These improvements will bring South Dakota one step closer to a more safe, efficient, and voter-friendly election process. As always, while policy is important, effective implementation is just as important.

As of 2021....

Online Mail Ballot Application

Online Mail Ballot Application

Apply for mail ballot online

No Excuse Required

No Excuse Required

No excuse to vote by mail

Robust Ballot Return Option

Robust Ballot Return Option

U.S. mail, drop boxes, vote centers, and more

Prepaid Postage

Prepaid Postage

Postage-paid return envelopes provided

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Accepts ballots postmarked by Election Day

Ballot Tracking

Ballot Tracking

Online method to check ballot status

Signature Verification

Signature Verification

Voter signature verified before ballot is counted

Cure Process

Cure Process

Ability to correct issues so ballot can be counted

Preprocessing

Prepaid Postage

Election official may process ballot before Election Day

Opportunities

Creating an online portal for voters to register to vote and request an absentee ballot is not only convenient; if it feeds directly into the voter registration system, it can be an important step to help verify addresses, collect contact information and to remove administrative steps to process a large amount of applications. We encourage an integrated process that allows new voters to register, current voters to make changes to their address and make requests for ballots in a seamless manner.
South Dakota can increase voter confidence by allowing voters to track their ballot much like an Amazon package by improving its current ballot tracking system. Advanced ballot tracking systems can proactively notify voters when their ballot takes a new step in the path from being sent to them to finally being counted (or rejected). If a ballot is rejected, these ballot tracking tools can be used as another method to contact voters if there is a signature mismatch or deficiency on their return envelope.

South Dakota can reduce costs and increase voter convenience by creating a permanent absentee option, where voters can sign up to automatically be sent an absentee ballot for each election without having to re-apply. This is similar to what the state already does for absentee requests, as they last for the entire year rather than just one election. While this is likely a longer-term goal for the state, it should keep in mind that states experience significant savings by cutting down on the requests they need to process; on average, states save $1 for every request they no longer need to process.

Simplifying the return process for a ballot is just as important as simplifying the request process. Ensuring that voters do not need to make an extra trip to the post office is not only a voter-centric reform, but also a safety reform.
We highly recommend implementing vote centers, or polling locations where any voter in the county can vote, in all counties. This is a way to streamline the system so over time, as the share of the vote cast by mail increases, counties can have fewer overall polling locations, while individual voters will have more voting location options. Additionally, we recommend including provisions to allow for ballots to be received at polling and vote centers, as well as other locations deemed necessary by the clerk, as a low cost way to increase return options.
Accepting ballots with Election Day postmarks shortly after election day is a best practice to ensure that voters are given all options to vote their ballot in a timely manner, as it is estimated in most jurisdictions to decrease ballot rejection rates by half. Current law allows for ballots to be requested up to one day before the election, and far too short of a timespan for a ballot to be mailed and then be returned by mail by close of polls. We recommend that not only does a state allow the physical postmark on a ballot, but also to integrate into the USPS system for electronic postmarks to serve as validation that a ballot was mailed on time.
Processing mail ballots to get them ready for counting before election day will help South Dakota get faster election results. This was the intention behind 2021’s SB 184, but the few hours of preprocessing allowed in the new law likely won’t be sufficient. Preliminary data also suggests that preprocessing helps avoid any blue or red shifts when there are differences in the partisan lean of mail vs. in person ballots, which could increase voter confidence in the results of elections.
In the event that a voter’s ballot is rejected, said voter should have the ability to cure any fixable issues with their ballot quickly and simply. As more voters use absentee ballots and, understandably, the number of rejected absentee ballots increases, we recommend implementing a Text2Cure system that allows voters to cure their ballots from their phones.

Recent Legislation

As of May 20, 2021

In response to the pandemic, the South Dakota legislature postponed its spring 2020 elections to June. Additionally, the Secretary of State mailed absentee ballot applications to all voters in order to facilitate voter participation. In 2021, the state passed SB 184 to give clerks the option to preprocess ballots for a few hours on election day before counting begins.