Republicans trying to inject integrity into an election system already dripping with it
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)
It seems that South Dakotans should be upset about the integrity of their elections. If the long list of bills in the current session of the Legislature is any indication, our elections are all fouled up.
A recent South Dakota Searchlight story noted that there were 43 — count ’em, 43 — election-related pieces of legislation under consideration in the current session of the Legislature. Suddenly, there’s widespread legislative concern about the integrity of our elections. That begs the question: Are there widespread problems with the elections in South Dakota? The short answer is no, South Dakota election officials handle their duties with professionalism and any problems they encounter are dealt with promptly.
As the Searchlight story noted, the bills and resolutions being considered in the Legislature have two general sources: Republican Party leadership and Republican lawmakers who belong to the South Dakota Freedom Caucus. This space has been used before to point out that there are two Republican parties slugging it out at the Capitol. The provenance of these election bills proves it.
While some legislators are vigorously sounding an alarm about election fraud — here’s looking at you, Freedom Caucus — others are trying to prevent problems that have yet to appear in South Dakota.
While there are no widespread election integrity problems in South Dakota, it may be interesting to see where it ranks in that area with the other states. Unfortunately, outfits that rank election integrity don’t seem to use the same set of criteria or come up with the same results.
With no theft to point at in South Dakota, two factions of GOP lawmakers are trying to out-conservative each other as they struggle with different and various ways to make an already strong election system even stronger. They are essentially trying to protect us from fraud that isn’t there and instill integrity in a system that’s already dripping with it.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, ranked South Dakota 19th in election integrity. Not bad for a state that’s perennially ranked last in most categories. The top five states, according to the Heritage Foundation, were Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri and South Carolina.
The Election Integrity Project, billed as an independent academic project from Harvard and Sydney Universities, ranks South Dakota 32nd in election integrity. It’s top five states are Vermont, Idaho, New Hampshire, Iowa and New Mexico. Tennessee, tops in the Heritage Foundation study, is ranked 49th by the Election Integrity Project.
While the rankings for state election integrity obviously fluctuate based on who is analyzing the data, the fact remains that until recently, no one has been howling about election integrity in South Dakota.
This sudden interest in protecting the state’s voters from fraud seems to be rooted in the false claims of former president Donald Trump that his victory in the 2020 election was somehow stolen from him by widespread voter fraud and corruption.
Trump’s claims have been proven false by every measure available. Recently a Washington Post story revealed that after the 2020 election, the Trump campaign hired Berkeley Research Group to analyze voting data in six swing states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The researchers could find no evidence of the fraud that Trump’s people were looking for, consequently triggering the campaign to keep the findings a secret until they were dug up by the Post.
It seems what we’re seeing in the South Dakota Legislature is a continuation of the Trump storyline that the 2020 presidential election was rigged and rife with corruption. With no theft to point at in South Dakota, two factions of GOP lawmakers are trying to out-conservative each other as they struggle with different and various ways to make an already strong election system even stronger. They are essentially trying to protect us from fraud that isn’t there and instill integrity in a system that’s already dripping with it.
South Dakotans can only hope that the most outlandish of these election integrity bills will be defeated. They should also hope that all the shouting in Pierre about election integrity doesn’t cause them to lose trust in their state’s elections just because Republicans in the Legislature are putting so much effort into fixing a system that isn’t broken.
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