By Caden Pearson
The South Dakota House of Representatives has passed a bill proposing to make the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots illegal in all elections in the state.
The bill, HB 1165, which requires all voters to return mail-in ballots either by mail or in-person to elections offices, advanced to the state Senate after the GOP-majority lower chamber voted 57–11 on Tuesday.
According to the new legislation (pdf), the state’s mail-in voting processes would change to allow partisan poll watchers to observe the ballot counting, prohibit the distribution of pre-filled mail-in ballot applications, and increase penalties for mail-in voting misdemeanors.
Per the legislation, county auditors will be banned from sending out absentee ballots after the Monday before Election Day, and the state Board of Elections must create rules for absentee voting in nursing facilities, assisted living centers, and hospitals.
These rules would be valid for both primary and general elections.
“It will clean up our elections,” said Republican state Rep. Kevin Jensen. “It doesn’t infringe on anybody.”
According to the bill, South Dakota residents wishing to vote by mail must make a written request for an absentee ballot, signed by the applicant, and it must contain their voter registration address, as well as an oath verifying the information.
The oath can be administered by a notary public or authorized officer, and if the request does not include an oath, it must be accompanied by a copy of the voter’s identification card, the bill states. The request can be used to obtain an absentee ballot for all elections in the same calendar year, if indicated.
The ballot will be sent to the voter’s residence or temporary address as designated by the voter, according to the bill. Residents covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act can opt to receive their ballot electronically.
The bill states that the person in charge of the election will stamp the application with the date of receipt and must keep a record of the name, mailing address, and voting precinct of each applicant. A copy of this record will be delivered to the superintendent of the election board of the applicant’s home precinct.
Republican state Rep. Kirk Chaffee, the bill’s sponsor, summed it up with the phrase: “Easy to vote, hard to cheat.”
The bill, which will now go to the state Senate State Affairs committee, is likely to become law as Republicans control both chambers of the state Legislature and the governorship.
If signed into law, South Dakota will join the growing number of Republican states that have restricted drop boxes in recent years.
Drop Boxes ‘Convenient’
Proponents of the use of drop boxes in elections argue they offer a convenient and accessible option for voters to return their ballots.
Democracy Docket, a progressive media platform founded by top Democrat lawyer Marc Elias, states on its website that by providing a round-the-clock option, voting “becomes as easy as filling out a ballot at home and depositing it in a secure box whenever the voter has time, a much more convenient process than going to a polling place or dropping it off at an election office during their limited hours of operation.”
The organization also says they are more convenient for election officials as they allow them to collect ballots directly from voters, avoiding issues with postal services and potential delays.
A number of states have enacted restrictions on drop boxes in recent years. Last year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled them illegal.
In January, Ohio restricted the number of ballot drop boxes per county to one and changed the law to require photo identification as a requirement for voting, instead of relying on other government documents or utility bills. The state also shortened the time frame for returning ballots and fixing any errors (known as “curing”), while also banning curbside voting.