Voter registration identification controversial in SD House, online option wouldn’t be in effect until 2021

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Voter registration is a controversial topic in the South Dakota legislature. There are two bills up for debate: online voter registration and allowing a non-driver identification number to register to vote.

The change to add non-driver identification is just a clarification to the current law, according to Secretary of State Steve Barnett, who testified in the House Local Government committee meeting Thursday.

Currently, people have several ways to register to vote in South Dakota. The first, and most common, is by providing the citizen’s driver’s license number.

This is then checked on a South Dakota Department of Public Safety database to confirm things like current felony sentences, if a judge has decided a person is not mentally competent or if the voter is listed as deceased.

The second option, which the state has already been doing, is to provide a non-driver identification number. A person can have this state-issued identification for a number of reasons. The most common being a person over the age of 18, but don’t drive. These numbers are also checked against the database. The bill simply clarifies this practice into state law.

Non-driver identification does not include tribal ID’s. Rep. Kelly Sullivan (D-Sioux Falls) asked why the state doesn’t allow that. Kea Warne, the director of elections for the South Dakota Secretary of State’s Office, said one of the main reasons is every tribe has a different way of issuing them.

“All the tribes would have to have the same kind of tribal ID for all of that data to match somewhere,” Warren said.

Another option for registering to vote is to simply provide a Social Security number. That information is then tracked against a database from the federal government.

The fourth option, which according to Warren has only been used by one person in her 24 years with the state, is for a person to go to a county auditor’s office and sign under perjury that they don’t have a driver’s license or non-driver identification number and no Social Security number.

Rep. Tina Mulally (R-Rapid City) took issue with this process.

“In the past, we haven’t been in the particular society that we are now, allowing, we are as you know, the governor has allowed the state to decide if they are going to allow refugees into our state. These refugees will not have any driver’s license, identification or Social Security number,” Mulally said.

Warren clarified that the current state law is dictated by federal government statutes. In 2002, the Help America Vote Act was passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush. In the law, a provision was put in for states to provide an alternative for people who do not have an ID or Social Security Number to register to vote.

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Specifically, Mulally had a problem with the first line of the bill, known as the catchline.

It says, “Registration–Information provided.”

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The current law already on the books says “Registration–Driver license number or social security information required.”

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“To me, it’s telling that anyone can register, then we’ll verify one way or the other because you don’t have that first statement in there,” she said.

The catchline, however, is not technically part of the law. It is just a summary of the bill prepared after it becomes a law.

Mulally and her colleague Rep. Julie Frye-Mueller (R-Rapid City) asked several questions about the SSN and non-SSN voter registration methods.

The state did clarify that, if approved, a voter registration card is mailed to the address listed on the voter registration form. If it bounces back, the county auditor can try once more. If it doesn’t make it that second time, the person is removed from the voter roll. That, in essence, helps to verify an address.

House Bill 1054 passed out of committee, with Frye-Mueller being the only representative to vote against it.

“Voter registration is something that is an American right, and we need to protect that at all times,” Mulally said. “Your system in South Dakota is top-notch.”

The committee was also scheduled to discuss online voter registration, but the bill was tabled by chairman Rep. Herman Otten (R-Lennox). Otten said in the meeting he anticipated HB1054 would bring up a lot of discussion.

We did learn one new fact about House Bill 1050, in a possible amendment filed by the State, saying it would go in effect on July 1, 2021, vs. the standard July 1, 2020. This would mean online voter registration, if passed and signed by Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD), wouldn’t be in effect for the 2020 Presidential election.

The committee also passed House Bill 1053, which clarified the process for ballot measures. This change came out of a snag officials discovered in recent years when it came to getting the most accurate cost information to the attorney general. There was no debate on the topic, and it passed unanimously.

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