August 7, 2020

With fewer than 90 days left until the November election, voters are considering how best to cast their ballot in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We won’t be moving the date of our election – it will be November 3 as scheduled – but logistics may be different. Absentee voting has become a popular choice this year since you can avoid crowded polling places. Normally, I vote in person at my polling location, but for this year’s primary election I actually voted absentee. South Dakota has a safe and secure absentee voting system in place, but this is not necessarily the case across the nation.

One of the important pillars of South Dakota’s absentee voting process and that of other states is that eligible South Dakota voters must submit a request for an absentee ballot before the ballot can be mailed to them. We have done this for many years now. South Dakota also requires that voters provide proof that they are indeed eligible to vote—on our voter registration form, there is a space to enter in your driver license number, or, if you don’t have one, the last four digits of your Social Security number.

Additionally, South Dakota requires absentee ballot applications to be notarized or include a photocopy of a photo ID card such as a driver license. In other states, absentee ballots are being automatically sent to every voter, regardless of if they requested one. This can lead to voter fraud. For example, if a voter recently moved to a new house and hasn’t yet updated their voter registration information, a ballot could be sent to their old house. There’s nothing stopping the new residents from filling out the ballot.

Maintaining the integrity of our free and fair elections is critically important—our elections are how we choose our country’s leaders. We need to make sure that they remain secure as we adapt to life during a pandemic. One of the main concerns we have with mail-in voting is making sure that all votes will be counted on Election Day. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS), which delivers mail-in ballots, has been bogged down by delays in recent months because of the coronavirus. We don’t want voters’ filled-in ballots left behind at USPS locations across the country where they can be compromised or greatly delayed. In South Dakota, our absentee ballots must be received by 5:00 p.m. the day before the election. This allows our normal election process to be completed on November 3.

Protecting the integrity of our election system isn’t a partisan issue —we all deserve to know, without a doubt, that our votes are being counted appropriately and that only the legal, valid votes of others are accepted at the ballot box. While this has always been the case, our concerns are exacerbated this election cycle due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because not every voter wants to or is able to vote in-person at a polling location, states must take steps to protect their elections while allowing for social distancing as well.

I trust in South Dakota’s voting process, and I encourage other states to take a look at how we do it. Our absentee voting process is voluntary and we require proof of eligibility to vote. These are two common-sense ways to help secure the validity of election results.