LIVE Coverage: Election 2022

By: - November 8, 2022 2:03 pm
A vote-here sign, pictured on Nov. 8, 2022, at the All Souls Church on Cliff Avenue in Sioux Falls. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

A vote-here sign, pictured on Nov. 8, 2022, at the All Souls Church on Cliff Avenue in Sioux Falls. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Voters headed to the polls Tuesday across all 66 counties in South Dakota. They cast ballots for Governor, U.S. Senator, U.S. Congressman, and decided on statewide candidates for offices like Secretary of State and Public Utilities Commissioner.

On the local level, 105 seats in the South Dakota Senate and House of Representatives were up for grabs, though many of those races were already decided. Voters backed Republicans in all statewide races, endorsed Medicaid expansion and rejected recreational marijuana. In Sioux Falls, city residents voted down a proposed slaughterhouse ban. In Fall River County, said no to uranium mining.

Scroll through our election-related updates here throughout the week for the latest news and analysis.

1 year ago

Record-setting number of women elected as governors in midterms

By: - Thursday November 10, 2022 2:38 pm

WASHINGTON —  The United States’ ceiling for female governors was shattered this week, with voters in 12 states electing women to the role, breaking the prior record of nine set for the first time back in 2004.

While not all of the gubernatorial campaigns have been called as of Thursday afternoon, Arizona and Oregon voters had two female candidates on their ballots, ensuring those states have elected a woman to the governor’s mansion, regardless of whether the Democrat or Republican candidate wins.

Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota meets with supporters in Rapid City on Nov. 7, 2022.
Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota meets with supporters in Rapid City on Nov. 7, 2022. (Kevin Eilbeck for South Dakota Searchlight)

Women were also elected to lead their states in Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York and South Dakota.

In total, there were 25 women running in gubernatorial races this year out of 36 total campaigns, a significant increase from the 16 female candidates who ran for governor in 2018.

Voters also elected the nation’s first openly lesbian governor in Massachusetts, though if the Democratic candidate wins in Oregon the country will get its first two openly lesbian governors. The Associated Press has not yet called the Oregon race, although the candidate, Tina Kotek, has declared victory.

Why women are breaking through

Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics, said Thursday several factors led women candidates to break through the record this year.

Female governors, she said, now have a longer record of showing women can succeed in the role, helping to erode some stereotypes that have hamstrung female candidates. Voters have also begun to reevaluate what they value in a leader.

“Seeing some of the failed leadership at executive levels of men might have also helped some of these women,” Dittmar said.

The last few election cycles, Dittmar said, have set a foundation for more female candidates as voters watched them win an increasing number of high-ranking positions, like governor, leading to more “public conversations about the importance of women in leadership.”

“That helps to soften the ground for women,” she said.

Women have increasingly moved up the ranks in statehouses, boosting the pool of women well positioned to run, a place that used to be dominated by male candidates, she said.

“For the governor’s office, it’s a sole office and there’s often a line of folks who are waiting to run for that position. And that line has been made up of men,” Dittmar said. “And it’s often been informed by men. In other words, who sits at that table deciding who’s going to run next and who’s going to be backed have often been small groups of politically powerful men.”

This election year also had a lot of turnover and opportunity for female candidates, combined with the fact that several women have stepped up following scandals by male politicians over the years.

The women elected as their states’ chief executives:

  • In Alabama, more than 67% of voters reelected Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who was first sworn in on April 10, 2017, as the first woman to hold the role in the state. Ivey, who was formerly the state’s lieutenant governor, stepped into the governorship after former Gov. Robert Bentley resigned after he pleaded guilty to campaign finance law violations.
  • Arizona voters haven’t yet learned whether Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs or Republican nominee Kari Lake will become their next governor. Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, held 50.3% of the vote as of Thursday midday, while Lake held 49.7%.
  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former President Donald Trump’s press secretary, won her election in Arkansas with 63% of the vote, becoming that state’s first female governor. Sanders defeated Democrat Chris Jones, who received 35% of the vote.
  • In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds secured reelection with 58% of the vote, handily winning out over Democratic challenger Deidre DeJear.
  • Kansans reelected Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly by a narrow margin over GOP challenger Derek Schmidt, the state’s attorney general. Kelly received 49.2% of the vote to Schmidt’s 47.7%. Kelly said Wednesday the state had voted “for civility, for cooperation, for listening to one another and for a spirit of bipartisan problem-solving that’s become all too rare in our politics today.”
  • Maine Democratic Gov. Janet Mills got the backing of 55% of voters for another term in the Pine Tree State, defeating Republican nominee Paul LePage, who was the state’s governor from 2011 to 2019. LePage received 43% of the vote. “Tonight the people of Maine sent a pretty clear message, a message that we will continue to move forward, not go back,” Mills said Tuesday night. “We will continue to fight problems, not one another.”
  • More than 63% of Massachusetts voters elected Democrat Maura Healey as their first woman governor and one of the country’s first openly lesbian governors this week. She defeated former state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who got 35% of the vote.
  • Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer secured reelection to a second term over Republican challenger Tudor Dixon. Fifty-five percent of voters backed Whitmer, compared to 44% supporting Dixon. Whitmer said in her victory speech that her win “reminds us all that our governor’s office does not belong to any person or political party. It belongs to all of us, the people of Michigan.”
  • In New Mexico, 52% of voters backed Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s reelection, rejecting a challenge to her tenure from Republican Mark Ronchetti, who received 46% of the vote.
  • New Yorkers elected Gov. Kathy Hochul as the state’s first female governor over Republican U.S. House Rep. Lee Zeldin. Hochul became the state’s current governor after she stepped up from her role as lieutenant governor following former Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo resignation in August 2021 amid multiple sexual harassment allegations. Hochul received 53% of the vote to Zeldin’s 47%.
  • In Oregon, either Tina Kotek, the Democratic candidate, or Christine Drazan, the Republican nominee, will become the state’s top executive, though counting continues in the especially close race. As of midday Thursday, Kotek had 46.7% of the vote to Drazan’s 43.9%.
  • South Dakota voters overwhelmingly reelected Republican Gov. Kristi Noem with 65% of the vote. Democratic challenger Jamie Smith, a delegate in the state House of Representatives, received 35% of the vote.

1 year ago

Prosecutors win judgeships in two state court circuits, incumbent holds on in third contested race

By: - Wednesday November 9, 2022 1:03 pm
Lawrence County State's Attorney John H. Fitzgerald.
Lawrence County State’s Attorney John H. Fitzgerald. (submitted photo)

The longtime Lawrence County State’s Attorney will ride out the twilight of his legal career on the bench in South Dakota’s Fourth Judicial Circuit.

John H. Fitzgerald, 67, bested four other candidates Tuesday for the single open seat in the circuit – the largest slate of candidates for a single judgeship since the 1972 election.

Near the end of the campaign, candidate Fitzgerald earned an admonishment from the South Dakota Special Committee on Judicial Election Campaign Intervention for holding two political positions in the county. Judges are required to avoid political activity. Fitzgerald resigned his county GOP posts shortly after that news broke.

Ultimately, it didn’t move the needle in a race where Fitzgerald’s name was arguably the most recognizable. The Deadwood-based prosecutor, who spent nearly three decades handling criminal cases in Lawrence County after beginning his career as Butte County State’s Attorney, led the race with 36 % of the vote. A total of 8,124 cast their ballot for Fitzgerald.

“I look forward to applying my experience, skills and knowledge from being a State’s Attorney for the past 40 years to the new position of circuit court judge,” Fitzgerland said Wednesday in a written statement.

Behind the victor were private attorney and former Division of Criminal Investigation Director David Natvig in second place, followed by third-highest vote-getter Chad Callahan, a magistrate judge, then by private attorneys Jennifer Tomac and Tina Hogue in fourth and fifth place.

On the opposite end of the state, Assistant Attorney General Mark Barnett sewed up a seat on the Second Judicial Circuit bench, besting Magistrate Judge Eric Johnson 63-37% for the Sioux Falls-based post. 

In the Third Circuit, 68-year-old incumbent Robert Spears defeated Beadle County State’s Attorney Michael Moore in a much closer race. The Watertown-based judgeship saw Spears come out ahead by less than 1,000 votes to win 51-49%.

Fitzgerald and Spears will both face mandatory retirement at age 70. The governor will choose replacement judges to serve out their terms in the interim period between their retirement and the next judicial election in 2030.

Last updated: 1:50 pm

1 year ago

State prepares to implement Medicaid expansion next summer, expects ‘significant’ hiring, tech resources

By: - 12:36 pm

A solid majority of South Dakotans voted to expand eligibility for the state’s Medicaid programs Tuesday. 

Constitutional Amendment D passed with 56% of the vote, or 191,781 votes, according to unofficial reporting from the Secretary of State’s Office.

“It’s long overdue,” said Rick Weiland, committee chair and treasurer for Dakotans for Health, which campaigned in favor of the amendment. “Sometimes you have to go directly to the people, and they know what they wanted.”

Now, the state government is setting a plan into action to make Medicaid available to 42,500 low-income South Dakotans ages 18 to 64 by July 1, 2023.

Medicaid expansion will cover such adults who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $38,295 for a family of four, said Steve Long, public information officer for the Department of Social Services.

Screenshot of unofficial results from the South Dakota elections website
Constitutional Amendment D passed with 56% of the vote, or 191,781 votes, according to unofficial reporting from the Secretary of State’s Office. (Courtesy South Dakota Secretary of State’s Office)

DSS expects around 52,000 newly eligible individuals will enroll, Long said in a written statement, “but those estimates have been exceeded in every other state that has expanded Medicaid.” 

DSS has formed a leadership team to oversee implementation and its effects on operations. Long expects that a “significant number of additional staff and technology resources” will be needed.

The expansion will have an impact statewide, Weiland said, adding that the cost of uninsured South Dakotans seeking medical care gets passed onto people who have private insurance already through the overall cost of healthcare.

Zach Marcus, campaign manager of South Dakotans Decide Healthcare, said $328 million in federal taxes will stay in South Dakota because of expanded Medicaid programs.

“That’s our money that we paid into taxes and aren’t receiving the benefit from,” Marcus said. “Those dollars stay here instead of going somewhere else.”

The coalition also estimated during its campaign that Medicaid expansion will generate $3.5 billion in new economic output by 2025, including $800 million by 2023.

“This huge coalition of organizations that came together to help pass this shows why this is going to be so good for South Dakota,” Marcus said. “There are so many groups that see this benefiting them and their organizations, and this will be such a good thing with all these people coming together behind it.”

South Dakota was one of 12 holdout states that implemented Medicaid expansion in the 2022 election since it was first effective in 2014. 

After Medicaid expansion was discussed during the 2022 State Legislative season and failed, petitioners brought the issue to voters.

“If you know South Dakota well enough, we’ve had a lot of success when the Legislature fails to step up by going directly to the people,” Weiland said.

1 year ago

Republicans lose a seat in state Senate, gain in the already deeply red House

By: - 11:58 am

The makeup of South Dakota’s deeply red legislature didn’t change much Tuesday night, although some races could see a recount.

The 70-person House of Representatives has seen the number of Democrats steadily drop from 29 in 1992 to just seven now. Democrats managed to squeeze out a win in the 35-person senate, bringing the caucus of three to four for the upcoming session. 

A handful of races have the potential for a recount, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, including three with Democratic candidates

Democrats Linda Duba and Kadyn Wittman both pulled off wins in District 15. But  Wittman and Republican Joni Tschetter both received 25% of the vote – with only 97 more votes to Wittman.

District 18 Republican Julie Auch is currently tallied at 4,663 votes – with would-be incumbent Democrat Ryan Cwach closely behind at 4,508 votes. 

Additionally, Incumbent Democrat Rep. Oren Lesmeister, of District 28A, only has 43 votes over challenger Republican Ralph Lyon. Lesmeister has a seat on the House Agriculture Committee.

Candidates requesting a recount must submit a petition to their county auditor within three days following the state canvass. That’s scheduled to convene November 15.  Upon the filing of a petition, recounts must be completed within 14 days.

South Dakota Searchlight has reached out to the candidates with potential recounts. None immediately returned messages seeking comment.

Last updated: 2:00 pm

1 year ago

Voters back Medicaid expansion in South Dakota

By: - 1:16 am

South Dakotans voted to expand eligibility for the state’s Medicaid programs Tuesday.

Constitutional Amendment D was winning with 56% of the vote as of 1 a.m. Nov. 9, or roughly 166,879 votes.

While the state is one of 12 that hadn’t expanded eligibility for its Medicaid programs, it was the only state to feature the question in the 2022 election.

The proposal would offer Medicaid coverage to an estimated 42,500 low-income South Dakotans ages 18 to 64.

About 16,000 of those people don’t currently qualify for any government assistance with health coverage even though their income falls below the federal poverty level.

Medicaid, the nation’s leading public health insurance program for low-income and disabled Americans, covers more than 82 million people and is jointly financed and operated by the federal and state governments. The 2010 Affordable Care Act allows states to offer coverage to more people, with the federal government paying 90% of the costs.

“Increasing Medicaid eligibility means more South Dakotans will have access to comprehensive coverage, including cancer screenings, diagnostic testing, treatment services and follow-up care needed to survive the disease that will kill 1,740 South Dakotans this year,” said Matthew McLarty, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) South Dakota government relations director in a prepared statement.

Keith Moore, director of Americans for Prosperity in South Dakota, told Kaiser Health News ahead of the election that he opposes expanding Medicaid because the taxpayer-funded program has been victim to billions of dollars in fraud and error. Moore also pointed to states that ended up spending more than expected on expanded coverage.

Americans for Prosperity supported an effort to create a 60% approval threshold for constitutional ballot questions that cost $10 million or more to implement, which would have included Medicaid expansion. In June, voters overwhelmingly defeated that proposal, so the expansion amendment needed only a simple majority to pass in November.

Last updated: 1:19 am

1 year ago

South Dakota voters leaning toward a defeat for recreational marijuana

By: - 1:12 am

South Dakotans appear to have rejected recreational cannabis on an election day that saw the five states considering legalization.

As of 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 9, Initiated Measure 27 had the support of just 47% of voters. The measure would have legalized the possession, use and distribution of recreational marijuana for people 21 years and older.

Vote tallies from the state’s two largest counties had yet to fully report results in the early morning hours on Wednesday. IM 27 was winning in Minnehaha County, but the gulf between yes and no votes stood at around 20,000. The measure was winning in Minnehaha County by more than 6,000 votes. 

Arkansas and North Dakota also voted against legalizing recreational marijuana, while Maryland and Missouri will join 19 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing use. Jurisdictions with legal recreational marijuana ahead of the Nov. 8 election accounted for about 44% of the U.S. population.

This was the second time a measure to legalize recreational marijuana has appeared on South Dakota ballots. Residents passed Amendment A with 54% of the vote in 2020.

Amendment A was struck down in February 2021 as unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the state’s single-subject rule for ballot initiatives. The case was appealed to the state supreme court, which upheld the decision in November 2021.

Last updated: 1:31 am

1 year ago

Fall River County voters say no to uranium mining

By: - 12:27 am

Fall River residents voted to designate uranium mining as an unlawful nuisance in the county Tuesday.

With 3,530 registered voters casting their ballots, the initiated measure earned a majority with 56% of the vote.

The vote is the latest development in a 16-year saga. It’s been that long since a corporation called Powertech formed in South Dakota to pursue a uranium mine on the southwestern edge of the Black Hills, about a dozen miles northwest of Edgemont. Powertech is a subsidiary of Encore Energy, a Texas-based company that wants to sell uranium to nuclear power plants.

Susan Henderson is a rancher and longtime project opponent who launched the drive to put the question on the ballot. She fears the mine would contaminate the aquifers that provide water for her ranch.

Henderson was not immediately available for comment Tuesday night.

The basis of the petition is a state law authorizing county commissioners to declare and abate public nuisances outside of city limits.

At a special meeting in August, the county commissioners debated whether the ballot measure would be legally enforceable. Fall River County State’s Attorney Lance Russell told the commissioners that South Dakota mining laws give power to the state – not the county – to permit or reject uranium mining.

Ahead of the election, South Dakota Searchlight asked Mark Hollenbeck, a local rancher who doubles as Powertech’s project manager, whether Encore Energy executives would challenge the ballot measure in court if voters approve it

“That’s not my decision, but if it was an impediment, I assume they would,” Hollenbeck said.

The ballot issue is just one of many aspects of a long-running fight. The project’s license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and permits from the Environmental Protection Agency are tied up in administrative appeals and litigation brought by opponents. And the project still requires consideration by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the state of South Dakota.

Uranium was mined in the Edgemont area from the 1950s to the 1970s to support the nation’s buildup of Cold War nuclear weapons. Back then, strip-mining and tunneling were the typical methods of extraction, and many sites were not cleaned up or restored to natural conditions. Lax safety controls and poor regulatory oversight resulted in dangerous radiation exposure for some workers and residents.

Powertech is proposing a different method of mining called “in situ,” which would involve the development of a field of wells. Water drawn from local, underground sources would be treated with liquid oxygen and carbon dioxide, pumped underground to leach uranium from subterranean deposits, and then brought to the surface where the uranium would be processed. The water would be treated and reused, and ultimately disposed of by injecting it back underground.

Encore Energy has said it would spend about $32 million during the project’s first two years to get the mine up and running.

Last updated: 1:48 pm

1 year ago

Noem wins four more years in Governor’s office

By: - Tuesday November 8, 2022 10:45 pm

Kristi Noem has defeated Democrat Jamie Smith to earn another four years in the governor’s mansion in Pierre.

Noem was leading 63-34% with more than half of precincts reporting when the Associated Press called the race. 

Noem told her supporters that states across the country are electing Republican governors because “they want what South Dakota has” in terms of economic growth and a hands-off approach to governance.

Smith called Noem before she took the stage, she said, to concede the race.

“Jamie and I had a very different vision for our state,” Noem said. “Tonight, the vision of less government and more freedom won out.”


Gov. Kristi Noem greeting her mother, Corrine Arnold, before giving a victory speech upon her re-election.
Gov. Kristi Noem greeting her mother, Corrine Arnold, before giving a victory speech upon her re-election. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

1 year ago

Johnson’s call for ‘fair elections’ wins her Secretary of State office

By: - 10:25 pm

Republican Monae Johnson’s campaign for more transparent elections and requiring voter ID has won her the office of South Dakota’s Secretary of State.

Johnson handily defeated Democrat Tom Cool, who leaned in to concerns about her being an “election denier” during campaign appearances. 

The office of the Secretary of State is responsible for South Dakota’s public documents and oversees state elections.

“We ran a fantastic campaign and we have great supporters,” Johnson said.

Johnson beat Cool with 65% of the vote.

Democrat Cool said the defeat makes him worried for his fellow South Dakotans.

“It’s sad,” Cool said. “South Dakotans don’t know what they’re voting for.”

1 year ago

Nelson argued ‘experience matters’ in PUC, voters agreed

By: - 10:06 pm

Commissioner Chris Nelson is set to serve another six years on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, a seat he was first appointed to in 2011.

The Public Utilities Commission regulates and authorizes utility companies and projects in the state.

“I would say to my worthy (Democratic) opponent Jeff Barth, who is a chess player – checkmate,” Nelson said.

Nelson leads Barth with 71% of the vote and 230 precincts fully counted.

Barth hung his campaign hopes on his opposition to the proposed Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline that would carry carbon dioxide across the state for sequestration. Barth’s slogan, a nod to landowners opposed to the project, was “no eminent domain for private gain.”

Barth said the standings illustrate that many South Dakotans are “sheepish.”

“South Dakotans are standing in their own way,” Barth said. 

PUC Chris Nelson was appointed in 2011 by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to fill a vacancy on the commission. He was then elected by South Dakota voters in 2012 and 2016.

1 year ago

Republicans near sweep of statewide offices

By: - 9:59 pm

South Dakotans have backed Republicans for every statewide, state-level office so far, with Gov. Kristi Noem holding a lead over challenger Jamie Smith.

The following candidates had given victory speeches as of 9:45 p.m. CST:

  • Newly elected Secretary of State Monae Johnson, 
  • Newly elected Commissioner of School and Public Lands Brock Greenfield,
  • Incumbent State Treasurer Josh Haeder,
  • Incumbent Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson, and,
  • Returning Attorney General Marty Jackley, who ran unopposed for a position he vacated in 2018 to run for governor.

Nelson was among the candidates touting South Dakota’s “red wave” of Republican victories before throwing a jab at his Democratic opponent, Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth.

“To my very worthy opponent, Jeff Barth, who is a chess player – checkmate,” Nelson said.

South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)


Last updated: 10:21 pm

1 year ago

Johnson set to serve a third term as South Dakota’s lone congressman

By: - 9:40 pm

Republican U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson will serve another term as the state’s lone U.S. Congressman. The AP called the race Tuesday night for Johnson with 80% of the vote.

Johnson lauded Republican wins in the U.S. House during his speech.

US Rep. Dusty Johnson gives a victory speech at the GOP watch party in Sioux Falls (SD Searchlight/John Hult).

“I am going to bring the same can-do attitude to the majority that I brought to the minority,” Johnson said.

The crowd at the Hilton Garden Inn erupted in cheers as Johnson declared “we will have a new Speaker of the House.”

The self-described workhorse from Mitchell faced Libertarian Collin Duprel. He said the results tell him the Republican party has a strong base – “but there is a dent in the armor,” Duprel said.

The Democratic candidate, Ryan Ryder, withdrew from the race after coming under scrutiny for tweets he made from a personal account.

Last updated: 9:53 pm

1 year ago

John Thune will serve a fourth term as a South Dakota senator

By: - 9:27 pm

Sen. John Thune will serve a historic fourth term as the senior United States senator from South Dakota – a seat to which he was first elected in 2004 – despite his challengers’ attempts to paint him as a creature of Washington.

“Only in America can an ordinary kid from Murdo, SD have the opportunity to get to serve the state of South Dakota in the U.S. Senate,” Thune said.

The AP called the race Tuesday night for Thune with 69% of the vote. Democrat Brian Bengs and Libertarian Tamara Lesnar had 27% and 4%, respectively. 

Senator John Thune celebrates his victory at the Hilton Garden Inn in Sioux Falls on November 8, 2022 (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

Bengs said the results tell him that many South Dakotans are simply unwilling to vote for a Democrat. 

The media environment, the information environment that we have in this country, in South Dakota, is very good at conditioning people to vote against their own interests and against what they believe because of the letter behind somebody’s name,” Bengs said. 

Libertarian Lesnar said the hurdle she ran into was getting out her message to enough voters. 

“This isn’t the end for me,” Lesnar said.

Sen. Thune was South Dakota’s Congressman from 1997 to 2003. He then defeated Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in 2004, portraying Daschle as a creature of Washington.

Historian and Thune adviser Jon Lauck said calling Daschle “too Washington” was effective because Washington D.C. Democrats are ideologically out of line with most South Dakotans – whereas Washington D.C. Republicans are not. 

“The crucial difference between Sen. Thune and Senator Daschle is that Thune is closely aligned ideologically with his state, which is obviously conservative, while Sen. Daschle represented the party of the left, and therefore his representation ran counter to a reddening home state,” Lauck said.

Thune was selected to serve as the minority whip in 2020.

The only other South Dakotan to be elected to the U.S. Senate for four consecutive terms was Republican Karl Mundt of Madison (1948-73).

Last updated: 9:28 pm

1 year ago

Polls closed in South Dakota

By: - 8:02 pm

The polls have closed both East and West River.

The South Dakota Secretary of State’s office will release results as they arrive.

Follow along here:

Last updated: 8:08 pm

1 year ago

Republicans sue for extended voting hours in Maricopa County

By: - 7:54 pm

Republicans Kari Lake and Blake Masters, along with the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, filed a lawsuit late Tuesday against Maricopa County demanding that polling places remain open until 10 p.m. on Election Day.

The suit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday, citing problems with tabulation machines that contributed to delays at around 60 of the 223 voting centers in the county.

Fields Moseley, the county’s communications director, said that the county can’t comment on pending litigation, but the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is dealing with the suit.

In the suit, the Republican candidates and organizations claim that “at least 36% of all voting centers across Maricopa County have been afflicted with pervasive and systemic malfunctions of ballot tabulation devices and printers, which has burdened voters with excessive delays and long lines.”

The Republicans argue that the issues at the polls caused some voters to leave without voting because of “untenably long lines.”

They also claimed that some voters whose ballots couldn’t be read by the tabulation machines were informed that they could discard that ballot and go to a different polling place to vote. Those voters failed to be “checked out” of the voting center they were at so their ballot was destroyed, however, which meant when they arrived at a second polling place, it appeared as if they had already voted, so they couldn’t vote there or were required to cast a provisional ballot.

The plaintiffs also said that the tabulation issues shortened the 13-hour voting period required by law, and that extending the voting hours “is necessary to prevent irreparable injury to the Plaintiffs and their members and supporters, and is demanded by the balance of equities and crucial public policy considerations.”

The plaintiffs are asking the court to extend the end of voting hours from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and to delay the public release of initial results in Maricopa County from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The suit also asks that inspectors at every polling location allow any voter who has been recorded as already having cast a ballot in this election be allowed to cast a provisional ballot — and that those provisional ballots be counted if the voter can “demonstrate to the satisfaction of” a judge that they had not previously voted.

By mid-afternoon on Election Day, Maricopa County announced that it was beginning to fix the tabulation issues caused by printer settings that didn’t produce dark enough timing marks on the ballots. Tabulation issues happened at 60 vote centers out of 223 in Maricopa County, the county said.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer apologized for the issues and promised that every legal ballot would be counted.

He encouraged voters to put their ballot in the box in the tabulator to be counted later or go to a different site that wasn’t experiencing issues. Voters were told to make sure they checked out of line at the voting center experiencing issues before heading to a different polling location.

1 year ago

Midterm voting mostly problem-free in battleground states, voting advocates report

By: - 6:39 pm

As of midday Tuesday, voting across the country has largely gone smoothly without any major issues or incidents of voter intimidation, voting rights advocates said.

In counties that did experience problems, which were typical of any Election Day, the incidents were largely attributed to faulty technology and human error.

In Maricopa County, Arizona, one of the nation’s largest voting jurisdictions in a critical battleground state, election workers Tuesday morning reported issues with ballot tabulators at about 20% of vote centers. Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates said at a news conference that the affected machines were rejecting about one ballot out of every five ballots inserted, according to Votebeat.

An elections worker scans mail in ballots at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center on November 07, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. With one day to go until election day, early voting continues and mail-in ballots are being tabulated. Arizona voters are casting ballots in very close Midterm elections for both Senator and Governor. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Officials did not initially know what was causing the issue, but technicians were dispatched to fix it.  Around 2 p.m. Mountain time, Maricopa County reported that technicians changed the tabulator printer settings to produce darker markings, which resolved this issue at a number of locations.

Gates stressed that the issue was not a sign of fraud and that nobody was being disenfranchised.

Nonetheless, misinformation proliferated about the tabulator issues online. Blake Masters, GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, hinted at potential fraud on Twitter. “Hard to know if we’re seeing incompetence or something worse,” he wrote. “All we know right now is that the Democrats are hoping you will get discouraged and go home.”

Kelli Ward, the chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party and a fake elector, wrote on Twitter that the county is “forcing poll workers to coerce voters to put their ballot in a box rather than getting it tabulated on site. Or they’re fired!”

In reality, officials reiterated that voters have a number of options when they encounter a malfunctioning tabulator, including going to another one of the 223 county vote centers or waiting for the functionality to be restored.

In a morning call with reporters, Taylor Moss, the election protection director at the Arizona Democracy Resource Center, said that given the machine glitches, she’s even more concerned that numerous voters have listened to rhetoric from election deniers encouraging them to show up to vote late in the day on Election Day.

“It’s really unfortunate that these bad actors who are spreading lies that mail-in voting isn’t safe and secure have now hurt the people they’ve been speaking to and the people that they have been pushing these lies on,” she said. “A lot of people have come out to vote on Election Day who don’t normally, and now they’re going to have to wait longer because of the higher turnout today intersecting with these ballot tabulation issues.”

Elsewhere, Emily Eby, senior election protection attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, reported Tuesday morning that some touch screens in Bell County, Texas, were also experiencing technical issues, but the issues were resolved by midday. Eby said her group received some reports of intimidation but couldn’t share details because of confidentiality issues, and the cases were actively being handled Tuesday morning.

Election Protection coalition partners in Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania all reported that things were running smoothly and, despite some late polling place openings and other minor issues, nothing was atypical of a midterm Election Day.

In Nebraska, a piece of machinery hit a tree outside a voting site in Otoe County Tuesday morning, causing a power outage that didn’t disrupt voting, according to the Nebraska Examiner. A small number of voters were also given only the first page of a two-page ballot, but otherwise officials reported things were going smoothly.

Early and absentee voting

Heading into Election Day, voting advocates were concerned that in three critical battleground states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — Republican officials and candidates were pushing to disqualify thousands of mail-in ballots.

 In Pittsburgh, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman thanks supporters during an Election Day Eve rally on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022.
In Pittsburgh, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman thanks supporters during an Election Day Eve rally on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. (Capital-Star photo by Ethan Dodd).

In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court sided with the Republican National Committee and ruled that election officials can’t count ballots if the voter didn’t put a date on the envelope, even if the ballot arrived before Election Day. Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman, several voters and Democratic groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging the plan to not count the ballots.

Similarly, in Wisconsin, a court sided with Republicans seeking to block ballots from being counted if they lack a witness address.

But in Michigan, a judge on Monday rejected Republican secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo’s effort to disqualify absentee voters in Detroit and force them to vote in person. Karamo claimed, without evidence, that voter fraud compromised the absentee voting process.

“Such harm to the citizens of the city of Detroit, and by extension the citizens of the state of Michigan, is not only unprecedented, it is intolerable,” Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny wrote in his opinion, according to Michigan Advance.

During early voting, some minor issues were attributed to human error and staffing. In Cobb County, Georgia, over 1,000 voters were not mailed an absentee ballot who should have received them. As a solution, a court agreed to extend the deadline for the receipt of their ballots to Nov. 14, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.

Cobb County Election Director Janine Eveler said that the ballots were not sent out due to human error, explaining to reporters that 38% of the staff are new to their jobs.

“I am sorry that this office let these voters down,” Eveler said in a message to the Board of Elections and Registration. “Many of the absentee staff have been averaging 80 or more hours per week, and they are exhausted. Still, that is no excuse for such a critical error.”

1 year ago

Fire puts nursing home residents in Wagner polling place

By: - 5:10 pm

Some poll workers in Wagner had to make space for around two dozen senior citizens on Tuesday after a late morning fire damaged the city’s

Nursing home residents were forced to move into the Wagner National Guard Armory on election day in Wagner, South Dakota after a fire. Poll workers at that voting location were moved to a different area to accommodate the residents.
Nursing home residents were forced to move into the Wagner National Guard Armory on election day in Wagner, South Dakota after a fire. Poll workers at that voting location were moved to a different area to accommodate the residents. (submitted by Frances Zephier)

Good Samaritan Center.

The fire at the nursing home in the city of 1,400 broke out around 11 a.m., according to Charles Mix County Emergency Manager Mike Kotab. The roof burned, but the residents were evacuated and no one was hurt, he said.

“There’s enough damage that it will be out of commission for a while,” Kotab said.

The residents moved in with poll workers at the Wagner National Guard Armory shortly after the fire, according to Charles Mix County Auditor Jason Gant. 

“We were pretty spread out (in the gymnasium), so we just moved our poll workers into a different area to make space for beds and medical equipment,” Gant said. 

The armory is the polling place for two of the 13 precincts in the county. Charles Mix has a total population of about 9,100. The election is still running smoothly, Gant said, in spite of the unexpected influx of visitors to the polling place.

“We had to roll with what was happening and try to help out,” he said.

Smoke rolls off the roof of the Good Samaritan Center on Nov. 8, 2022 in Wagner, South Dakota.
Smoke rolls off the roof of the Good Samaritan Center on Nov. 8, 2022 in Wagner, South Dakota. (photo submitted by Frances Zephier)

Dustin Zephier is a cook at the facility and was at work when the fire broke out. 

“All I know was I was cooking, and the next thing we knew there was smoke,” Zephier said. “As soon as we got outside and saw flames, everybody was evacuated.”

He and his coworkers helped move all 42 residents out of the building as fire crews arrived, and later fed them food donated by local restaurants. Residents with higher medical needs were moved to Wagner Community Hospital, he said. 

“It was basically all hands on deck, even for people (at Good Sam) who had the day off,” he said. “There were teachers there from the school, and all the restaurants chipped in to donate food.”

The incident and response shows the value of a well-trained staff during emergency situations, said Phil Samuelson, Good Samaritan Society executive director.

“We plan for events like these and are so grateful to our staff for their quick actions to ensure residents’ safety. We cannot thank the community enough for their support during this time,” he said. “Residents are being relocated to nearby Good Samaritan Society locations while crews are on-site assessing the damage and investigating the cause of the fire.”

1 year ago

Sioux Falls precincts report 33% Election Day turnout, voter turnout ‘very good’ across South Dakota, so far

By: - 4:18 pm

Voter turnout across South Dakota is on track or above normal compared to prior midterm elections, county auditors said at around 3:15 p.m. CST.

As of midafternoon on Tuesday, here is how counties with electronic poll books are reporting for in-person Election Day voter turnout:

  • Hutchinson County has a 34% voter turnout, which is “very good” for the rural southeastern South Dakota county, said Auditor Diane Murtha.
  • Yankton County reports a 20% voter turnout.
  • 32% of voters have cast their ballot in Hughes County, including absentee voters. County Auditor Thomas Oliva expects to hit a 40% voter turnout by the time polls close.
  • About 22% of Brown County registered voters have cast their ballots, including absentee ballots.
Sign on the door of Precinct: 3-14 in Sioux Falls instructs voters to have their photo ID ready to present to poll workers.
In Sioux Falls, multiple precincts are reporting about one-third of the city’s voters have cast their ballots in person on election day. At the Career and Technical Education Academy in northwest Sioux Falls, 886 of 3,010 voters had checked in before the evening rush began. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

In Sioux Falls, multiple precincts are reporting about one-third of the city’s voters have cast their ballots in person on election day. At Faith Family Church in central Sioux Falls, for example, 468 of the 1,400 voters had cast a ballot in person by 3 p.m. At the Career and Technical Education Academy in northwest Sioux Falls, 886 of 3,010 voters had checked in before the evening rush began.

Poll worker Ken McFarland said, however, that “the rush has been all day.” 

“This is the slowest it’s been,” he said at about 3:30 p.m. CST, as a line of four voters walked through the school’s entryway.

Elections are running smoothly, even in Grant County, where Auditor Karen Layher had to find six last-minute poll worker alternates after a handful of volunteers came down with COVID.

“I was just checking with local precincts and our voter turnout is around 50%, I’d say, and that is with absentees processed but not counted” said Layher. Grant County uses physical poll books. “I’m happy. It’s going well. The whole town (Milbank) was busy while I was going out to precincts.”

As for absentee voting, counties are reporting standard or above normal absentee rates:

  • Pennington County reports close to 19,000 absentee ballots so far, which is well ahead of just under 17,000 absentee ballots cast in the 2018 election, said County Auditor Cindy Mohler.
  • Hutchinson County reports about 400 absentee ballots returned so far, which is about 100 more than in the 2018 race, Murtha said.
  • Lincoln County reports 5,620 absentee ballots so far, which is in line with the 2018 election.
  • Close to 4,000 absentee ballots have been received in Yankton County, which is similar to 2018.
  • 1,890 absentee ballots have been received in Hughes County, which is a “little more than typical,” Oliva said.

Murtha believes the increase in absentee voting and earlier day-of voter traffic in Hutchinson County is due in part to changes in voter behavior after the COVID pandemic. 

“Usually when I call my precincts at this time they say, ‘Oh, it’s kind of slow.’ It usually picks up around 6 p.m. after work, and there usually aren’t this many absentees,” Murtha said. “With COVID, things changed: people like voting at home or going earlier in the day to vote.”

Over 144,300 absentee ballots have been cast – in-person, military or mailed in – ahead of the 2022 election, according to Nov. 4 data from the Secretary of State’s Office. That’s on track for “normal” midterm absentee numbers. With 597,148 voters registered in South Dakota, that’s 24% voter turnout for absentee ballots alone. 

Absentee ballots accounted for 26% of the ballots cast in the 2018 election and 51% in the 2020 election.

1 year ago

More than 42 million Americans already have voted in the midterms

By: - 2:29 pm

WASHINGTON — More than 42 million Americans by midafternoon on Monday had gotten a jump start on Tuesday’s midterm elections, casting their votes through mail-in ballots or by heading to in-person early voting centers.

The United States Election Project’s data showed a significant number of voters continue to prefer voting ahead of Election Day, possibly continuing a shift that began years ago but was forced upward in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 144,300 absentee ballots have been cast – in-person, military or mailed in – ahead of the 2022 election, according to Nov. 4 data from the Secretary of State’s Office. That’s on track for “normal” midterm absentee numbers. With 597,148 voters registered in South Dakota, that’s 24% voter turnout for absentee ballots alone. 

In Iowa, 341,237 absentee ballots had been received by election offices as of Sunday night, the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office reported Monday. That total represents about 18% of active registered voters. A total of 359,313 ballots have been issued statewide. Iowa voters have until 8 p.m. Tuesday to return completed absentee ballots to auditors’ offices.

A vote here sign, pictured on Nov. 8, 2022 at the All Souls Church on Cliff Avenue in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
A vote here sign, pictured on Nov. 8, 2022 at the All Souls Church on Cliff Avenue in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. (Josh Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre cautioned Monday that because of the volume of early and mail-in votes, Americans may need to wait days or possibly even weeks until election workers can count all the votes and declare election winners.

“In modern elections, more and more ballots are being cast in early voting and also by mail. And many states don’t start counting those ballots … until after the polls close on Nov. 8,” Jean-Pierre said. “It’s important for us to all be patient while votes are being counted.”

So far, this year’s early voting numbers show 43% of the votes cast are from Democrats while 34% were from Republicans. The remaining 23% were from people without a major party affiliation, according to the election project from the University of Florida.

In South Dakota, 45,706 of the ballots received as of Nov. 4 were from Republicans, with another 25,373 from Democrats and 11,189 from Independents. Smaller parties made up the remainder of early votes.

Steady rise in early voting

The number of people voting via mail ballots or early in person has steadily risen each midterm election year, starting at 14% in 2002 before inching up to 20% in 2006.

The numbers continued rising during the 2010 midterm elections, when 26% of voters used alternative voting methods, either early in-person or mail-in ballots. During the 2014 midterm elections, the number of early or mail-in voters rose to 31% before reaching 40% during the 2018 midterm election, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

That upward trend was before the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled many people’s routines during the 2020 presidential election, leading to a record 69% of Americans voting alternatively, either through early in-person voting or by mail-in ballots, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Florida, Georgia early voting

Texas, Florida, California, Georgia and North Carolina voters have cast the most early ballots per state.

In Florida, nearly 5 million people have voted early, starting to determine who will win the state’s gubernatorial race as well as one of its U.S. Senate seats and the 28 U.S. House seats.

More Republicans in the Sunshine State have cast ballots than Democrats, flipping the national trend. GOP voters have cast 43% of the early votes compared to 37% from Democrats and 20% from people not registered as part of a major political party.

Florida’s mail-in ballots top the number of people who have voted early compared to in person, 2.5 million to 2.3 million, respectively.

In Georgia, a battleground where Democrats are looking to keep the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Raphael Warnock against a challenge from Republican candidate Herschel Walker, more than 2.5 million people have voted early.

The vast majority of those votes, 2.3 million, were from in-person early voting while the remaining 220,000 people voted by mail.

Georgia, unlike some other states, shares information on the age, gender and race of its early voters.

So far, 55% of early voters in the Peach State are women, outpacing men by 1.4 million ballots to 1.1 million ballots.

Roughly half of the early ballots cast in Georgia come from people between the ages of 41 and 65, with another 33% of early votes from people over 65. Voters between 26 and 40 have cast 12% of the early votes with 18-to-25 year-old voters casting the remaining 6% of votes.

Non-Hispanic white people have cast 57% of the early votes so far in Georgia. Non-Hispanic Black voters have submitted 29% of early votes, making up the second largest early voting bloc in the state. Hispanic and Asian American voters each make up 2% of early voters for a total of 4% while Native Americans cast less than 1% of the state’s early votes. The remaining votes were from people with “other, multiple, or unknown” racial characteristics.

Early votes in North Carolina

In North Carolina, where Republicans are favored to win the open U.S. Senate seat, nearly 2.2 million people have cast early votes with 2 million of those cast in person and the rest from mail-in ballots.

Thirty-eight percent of those votes came from registered Democratic voters while 31% were from Republicans and the remaining 31% of votes were cast by people not affiliated with a major party.

Voters between 41 and 65 cast the most early votes, making up 43%, while people older than 65 have cast 40% of North Carolina’s early votes. People between 26 and 40 cast about 13% of the votes while those from 18 to 25 have cast 5% of the early votes.

Fifty-two percent of early votes in the Tar Heel State have come from women, while the rest have been by men or people without a gender affiliation on their voter registration.

Non-Hispanic white people account for roughly 72% of early votes in North Carolina while non-Hispanic Black voters make up 19% of early votes cast. Hispanic voters account for 1.5%, Asian Americans make up 1.2% and Native Americans have cast less than 1% of early votes. The remaining 6% of early votes came from people with “other, multiple, or unknown” racial characteristics.

Record turnout possible

Given the more than 42 million early votes cast nationwide, the 2022 midterm elections could be on track to host record turnout, depending on how many people vote on Election Day as well.

More than 158.4 million Americans, or about 63% of the voting age population, voted in the 2020 presidential election, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

And the last midterm elections in 2018 saw 53% of U.S. voting-age citizens cast ballots, the highest turnout for a midterm election in 40 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Voting in this midterm election could be higher than past midterm elections as well, according to a Pew Research Center survey of registered voters that showed 80% of Republicans said they are “extremely” or “very” motivated to vote compared to 79% of Democratic backers.

Drew DeSilver, senior writer at Pew Research Center, wrote that “one unknown factor” in determining how many people vote this year will be “how the many state voting-law changes since 2020 will affect turnout.”

“While some states have rolled back early voting, absentee or mail-in voting, and other rule changes that made voting easier in 2020 — or adopted new rules that make voting more difficult or inconvenient — other states have expanded ballot access,” DeSilver wrote.

But DeSilver also cautioned that even if the United States sees a record midterm election turnout year, the nation “likely will still trail many of its peers in the developed world in voting-age population turnout.”

“In fact,” DeSilver wrote, “when comparing turnout among the voting-age population in the 2020 presidential election against recent national elections in 49 other countries, the U.S. ranks 31st — between Colombia (62.5%) and Greece (63.5%).”

State court rulings on ballots

The number of ballots cast in person this year, 20 million, is relatively close with the 23 million voters who have returned mail-in ballots.

Not all mail-in ballots will be counted, however.

In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court ruled that ​​county boards of elections must “refrain from counting any absentee and mail-in ballots received for the November 8, 2022 general election that are contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes.”

In Wisconsin, an appeals court and a circuit judge have rejected attempts to get mail-in ballots counted if they include a partial address of the witness.

— Kathie Obradovich and Makenzie Huber contributed to this story. 

1 year ago

Campaigns make final pitches to voters

By: - 2:06 pm

Campaigns made their final pitches to voters on Monday ahead of an election that will see South Dakotans decide on a governor and other statewide offices, as well as the legal status of recreational marijuana and the expansion of Medicaid.

Incumbent Republican Gov. Kristi Noem and her opponent, Democrat Jamie Smith, traversed the state over the weekend and capped their tours with dueling rallies on opposite ends of the state.

Trump makes brief appearance for Noem

Noem addressed a large crowd Monday night at the Monument in Rapid City, a venue formerly known as the Rapid City Civic Center. Former President Donald Trump appeared remotely after speeches from Noem and each Republican candidate for state-level, statewide office. The rally capped a busy week for the Noem, who hosted Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and former Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard last week.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters of Gov. Kristi Noem via videolink on Nov. 7, 2022 in Rapid City, SD.
Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters of Gov. Kristi Noem via videolink on Nov. 7, 2022 in Rapid City, SD. (Kevin Eilbeck for South Dakota Searchlight)

Several of the Monday night speakers predicted a “red wave” of Republican wins in both South Dakota and across the country.

Trump, appearing from his airplane for just over a minute, called Noem a friend who had done “a fantastic job” running South Dakota.

“Kristi Noem is one of the best governors in the country. We have to reelect her by a wide margin,” Trump said.

Noem touted her record on gun rights, the COVID pandemic, her signature on a bill banning biological males from competing in women’s sports, and the state’s economy and a trend of inbound migration.

“South Dakota is proof that Republican values work,” Noem said. “All we did in South Dakota is what Republicans say they’ve always believed in, and it worked.”

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem meets supporters on Nov. 7, 2022 in Rapid City.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem meets supporters on Nov. 7, 2022 in Rapid City. (Kevin Eilbeck for South Dakota Searchlight)

Handing the reins over to Smith would tank the economy and undo the accomplishments of the past four years, she said.

“We’ve created opportunity for families, for business, to pursue the dreams they’ve had for many, many years,” Noem said.

Smith camp rallies in Sioux Falls

Smith’s rally took place at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls. The District 15 state senator appeared alongside Brian Bengs, the retired Lt. Colonel and former Northern University professor challenging incumbent Republican Sen. John Thune for a U.S. Senate seat.

The small third floor stage also played host to nearly every Democrat on the ballot for statewide office.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Brian Bengs speaks to supporters on Nov. 7, 2022 at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Brian Bengs speaks to supporters on Nov. 7, 2022 at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

Bengs told the audience that he’d traveled to all 66 counties in South Dakota meeting voters. He’s been able to connect with Republicans, he said, by finding common ground on the corrupting influence of political spending and politicians who spend too much time in Washington, D.C.

“I believe that every problem in our country is caused by, or made worse by, the influence of money in politics,” Bengs said.

Bengs introduced Smith as “the main event,” leading a chant as the gubernatorial hopeful’s wife Kjerstin took the stage to introduce her husband. After 27 years together, she said, “I have it on pretty good authority that what you see is what you get with Jamie.”

The Democratic challenger said he didn’t anticipate a close race with Noem, who outraised and outspent him by a wide margin. The most recent poll had Noem 19 points ahead, but an SDSU poll released shortly before that had Smith within a few points.

“I never thought we’d be standing here within the margin of error when we announced in February,” Smith said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jamie Smith addresses supporters at a rally on Nov. 7, 2022 at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jamie Smith addresses supporters at a rally on Nov. 7, 2022 at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

He said women’s reproductive health, daycare, preschool and health care for the uninsured are on the ballot for South Dakotans, and that his party has the ticket to deliver.

He pointed specifically to Amendment D, which would expand Medicaid eligibility.

“We have thousands of people who need health care, and we can bring it to them tomorrow by expanding Medicaid,” he said.

He also backed an initiative for recreational cannabis, something he said “I thought I’d never be campaigning for.”

Pro-pot group hopes to overcome odds

Supporters and opponents of those ballot measures have ramped up street team work, as well. Backers of Initiated Measure 27, which would legalize recreational marijuana for adults, say they feel good about their chances, in spite of polls that show their side lagging with likely voters.

Matthew Schweich of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws is confident undecided voters will break for cannabis. He cited the passage of Amendment A in 2020, which legalized both recreational and medicinal marijuana. The Amendment was tossed by the South Dakota Supreme Court after a challenge from two members of the South Dakota law enforcement community. Noem voiced support for the challenge.

“I think the sentiment that the politicians overturned the will of the people will carry us to victory,” Schweich said.

Yard signs supporting Initiated Measure 27, piled up in the IM 27 campaign office in Sioux Falls on Nov. 4, 2022. IM 27 would legalize adult cannabis use in South Dakota.
Yard signs supporting Initiated Measure 27, piled up in the IM 27 campaign office in Sioux Falls on Nov. 4, 2022. IM 27 would legalize adult cannabis use in South Dakota. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

Medicinal marijuana passed in a separate initiative in 2020, and dispensaries began to open earlier this year after a rules-making process.

Last week, in the final stretch before the 2022 general election, the pro-recreational pot group organized a press conference with law enforcement backers. That virtual event was a response to an anti-pot gathering with Sioux Falls-area law enforcement and elected officials in late October.

The anti-IM 27 side has continued pushing out its message on the airwaves, said Jim Kinyon of Protecting South Dakota Kids. That messaging has largely taken the form of advertising, upon which the group has spent more than $300,000 since the primary. The pro-Iegalization group has spent around $23,000 on ads since spring and had less than $1,000 left on hand at the end of October.

Those working to defeat IM 27 are pleased with where they stand, Kinyon said, but they aren’t taking a win for granted.

“Resting is not going to be the answer here, because there’s an industry that wants to access our kids and communities,” he said.

Medicaid expansion advocates make last push

Advocates for the expansion of Medicaid in South Dakota via Constitutional amendment have also been working to get out the vote for their case. The state is one of 12 that hasn’t expanded the program since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Passage of Amendment D would make tens of thousands of South Dakotans eligible for Medicaid coverage.

Dr, Amy Kelley speaks to a crowd of volunteers at a kick-off event for a petition drive that aims to put abortion access on the 2024 ballot in South Dakota. The event took place Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 at Icon Lounge in Sioux Falls.
Dr, Amy Kelley speaks to a crowd of volunteers at a kick-off event for a petition drive that aims to put abortion access on the 2024 ballot in South Dakota. The event took place Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 at Icon Lounge in Sioux Falls. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

Rick Weiland, co-founder of Dakotans for Health, believes “the tide has turned” on support for Medicaid expansion.

“Anything can happen, but I think the folks who support this feel pretty good about our chances,” Weiland said.

Dakotans for Health had about $77,600 in the bank at the time of the pre-general election campaign filing deadline, as well as the backing of groups like the League of Women Voters, the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce.

Opponents of Amendment D have far less campaign cash. The group had no cash on hand before the election, according to Republican State Sen. John Wiik, R-Big Stone City, who is among the volunteers who regularly speaks against the ballot question.
“If we pull this off (a defeat for Amendment D), it will be the biggest David vs. Goliath story in the state,” Wiik said Monday.

Supporters of expansion have already begun work on a 2024 measure: a Constitutional amendment to codify a right to abortion. Organizer Pam Cole, a former chair of the South Dakota Democratic party, said the group collected more than 150 signatures in support of such an amendment at an event on Saturday, the first day volunteers could legally begin circulating petitions.

Last updated: 2:08 pm

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