A voter fills out a ballot on Nov. 8, 2022, at a polling place in Sioux Falls. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)
The South Dakota Board of Elections voted Wednesday to change the state voter registration form to fit the requirements of a 2022 lawsuit agreement between Native American tribes and the state.
The lawsuit alleged numerous violations of the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to allow people to register to vote while applying for driver’s licenses, public assistance or disability assistance. The tribe said the state had deprived “thousands of tribal members and other citizens of their federally-guaranteed opportunities to register to vote and to change their voter registration addresses.”
A federal judge approved a multifaceted settlement in May 2022. The settlement was a “giant step forward in the battle to make sure Native voices are properly heard at the ballot box,” according to the Lakota People’s Law Project, which was a plaintiff in the case along with the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux tribes and voters Kimberly Dillon and Hoksila White Mountain.
The Elections Board enacted one of the settlement’s required actions Wednesday. The board voted to amend the state’s voter registration form to better inform an applicant that they can provide a written description of their physical address if they do not have a U.S. Postal Service address. Many residences on tribal land and in rural South Dakota don’t have addresses recognized by the U.S. Postal Service and rely on P.O. Boxes to receive mail and deliveries.
The voter registration form previously read, “If Residence Address is a PO Box, rural box, or general delivery, you must give the location of your residence.” Now the prompt lets voters know they can write the names of intersections or streets where they live or any existing landmarks, such as schools, churches or stores instead of, for example, the GPS coordinates of their home.
Another requirement of the lawsuit settlement was that South Dakota name a statewide National Voter Registration Act coordinator to ensure compliance with the law across state agencies. Secretary of State Monae Johnson hired Adam Miller into the role on Feb. 11.
Two election bills passed by the state Legislature that would make more changes to voter registration have yet to be vetoed or signed into law by Gov. Kristi Noem.
Senate Bill 139 would further amend the voter registration form to require that potential voters certify they have resided in South Dakota for at least 30 days before submitting the form. Senate Bill 140 would require that any first-time voter who leaves the party affiliation field blank must be registered as independent rather than “no party affiliation.”
The board unanimously passed the changes legally required by the settlement agreement despite concerns about the two bills.
“If we have to do it again, we have to do it again,” said Deputy Secretary of State Tom Deadrick during the meeting. “We’ve got to go along with what we promised we would do as far as the settlement is concerned, or else we could probably find ourselves back in court.”
The changes will be presented to the Legislative Rules Review Committee at its April 11 meeting. If the changes are approved, then the change will be final 20 days after that.
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