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Bill seeking to tighten absentee voting restrictions reaches House floor

Kent Osborne

The House Local Government committee is advancing a bill that changes absentee voting procedure and shortens the early voting window.

House Bill 1217 hardens requirements to vote absentee in South Dakota.

It’s presented by Rep. Scott Odenbach. The Spearfish Republican argued most voting should be done on election day.

“Now we have what many have described to me as election month, or election quarter," Odenbach said. "Absentee voting goes on too long, increasing the burden on our auditors to staff and maintain voting centers, and in the future could provide opportunities for fraud as it goes on and on. A third concern was the ballot drop boxes, which are so rife for fraud and abuse, and I think is something we should stop before it becomes another thing we take for granted as another part of our elections.”

The bill, along with making ballot droboxes illegal, would shorten the early voting period from 45 days to 30.

Despite the intention to lessen workloads for election workers, the bill faced opposition by county auditors themselves. That includes Susan Kiepke from Davison County.

“I would just like to say that auditors across the state run their elections with the utmost integrity," Kiepke said. "We’re talking about our reputations. We don’t want our reputations tarnished and we take elections very seriously. I will never be in favor of shortening the absentee voting time. It is not a burden on auditors. It’s part of our job.”

Auditors from Davison, Harding, and Pennington Counties also spoke against the bill.

Still for some committee members, the issue at hand remained election security. Rep. Sue Peterson of Sioux Falls said the bill merited further discussion.

“We’ve seen a number of election integrity bills coming through the legislature, and I think it makes sense for us to keep some of these alive on the House side," Peterson said. "I think this bill contains some critical elements that need to be considered and should be heard by the whole body.”

After some debate, HB 1217 advanced on a 7-5 vote.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misattributed a quote to Rep. Mary Fitzgerald. The quote in fact is from Rep. Sue Peterson. The story has been corrected.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture