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Lawmakers question election process in SD

This story is reported by South Dakota News Watch, a non-profit news organization. Find more in-depth reporting at www.sdnewswatch.org.

Despite the concerns of some lawmakers and citizens, South Dakota election officials are “very confident” that the state electoral process is sound and that the 2022 general election results will be accurate and valid.

As is the case in almost all states, the South Dakota electoral process has come under increased scrutiny since the 2020 election in which former President Donald Trump lost but has continued to claim the election was rigged and electoral processes in America were compromised.

However, South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett and county auditors who run local elections say they have reviewed the concerns and concluded that the electoral process in place in South Dakota is secure and that voters can trust the results of the Nov. 8, 2022, election.

“I’m very confident in our system, which is a bottom-up approach led by auditors at the county level, and I also know that our election laws are strong,” Barnett said. “We have paper ballots, our tabulating machines are not connected to the internet, and a statewide canvass is completed after election day.”

Barnett said that while he is highly confident in the South Dakota electoral system, he is aware that scrutiny of elections is at an all-time high in America. Some of the uncertainty also arose after election officials across the nation found ways to hold valid elections in 2020, a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing and procedures such as absentee voting rose to unprecedented levels of use.

“I think some people across the country have lower voter confidence, so that carries over to other states,” Barnett said. “At more of the ground level in our elections, the auditors are seeing more questioning of the process and the system than they’ve probably ever seen before.”

Some of the recent concern has come from Republican lawmakers, including those in the new Freedom Caucus in the South Dakota Legislature, a group of 24 conservative Republican lawmakers.

In an Aug. 19, 2022, letter to Gov. Kristi Noem and Attorney General Mark Vargo, the lawmakers requested the two officials take steps to preserve 2020 election records by directing our “county Auditors to uphold the rights of our citizens to oversee and review the election process to further strengthen our elections, and to honor our commitment to our citizens for government transparency.”

In an Aug. 17 press release, the Freedom Caucus asked Noem and other lawmakers to “join them in taking immediate action in light of election integrity findings the caucus says they have recently become aware of.”

The release continues: “The caucus has not disclosed the specific details regarding their findings, but stated that some of the issues are time sensitive and affect the oversight of the election process.”

When asked what “election integrity findings” the lawmakers were referring to, Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Aaron Aylward, R-Harrisburg, said the caucus wants to help a citizens’ group obtain access to voting records to review them for inconsistencies, and has heard that some voters have been turned away from the polls in South Dakota. The caucus also wants to preserve records from the 2020 election in order to allow for further reviews.

“The point I’m coming from is that in the 2020 election … I had concerns with the way elections were being carried out,” Aylward said. “Some states were worse than others, but it just caused folks here in South Dakota to look into it a little more.”

Barnett said he and his staff have listened to and reviewed those concerns but have not found any concrete evidence of electoral problems or anything that shows a lack of integrity in South Dakota elections.Improving civility in America must begin with leaders

Barnett said he hasn’t seen any materials or information produced by the Freedom Caucus or a citizens’ group that he would consider as “integrity findings,” or actual evidence of electoral errors or wrongdoing.

“I’m not aware of anything concrete; it’s more like rhetoric,” Barnett said. “There’s nothing that I’ve seen concrete that they have reported to law enforcement or anything concrete that has been brought to our attention. And I don’t know who they’re attacking, really; it just gets to be like playing whack-a-mole.”

Some of the concerns raised by lawmakers dovetail with those of the citizens’ group, called the South Dakota Canvassing Group, which claims to have evidence of significant electoral problems in the state. The group’s website asks visitors to “Help us save South Dakota,” and provides basic 2022 election and ballot information, but also asks for donations and seeks volunteers to send in “election fraud tips.”

The website includes a video of a South Dakota Canvassing Group member speaking at a Moment of Truth Summit hosted by My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, and the site references connections to Capt. Seth Keshel. Both Lindell and Keshel are known to be election deniers.

Aylward said the Freedom Caucus is not formally connected to the canvassing group but shares some of its concerns.

“They contacted us on this issue, and I agree with them on a lot of the concerns that they have,” Aylward said. “A lot of people see the stuff they [the canvassing group] are pursing as fringe, but I would say they raise a lot of good questions.”

Aylward said that human error, including voter error, plays a role in many election issues. Aylward said in an interview with News Watch that he has no concrete evidence of any electoral fraud in South Dakota at this time. But in a subsequent interview, he said his concerns increased after watching a video of a Sept. 20 press conference held by the canvassing group in Sioux Falls where members raised questions about electoral integrity in South Dakota.

One of the key talking points raised by the canvassing group and other national election critics is a desire to review Cast Vote Records, which are documents that some electoral machines produce to show how votes were cast and by whom. Citizens and groups across the country — prompted by national election deniers — have made formal records requests to see the CVRs, though many of the documents are not subject to open-records laws.

Aylward said he had heard that some South Dakota auditors have released CVRs and some have not; and he said he heard that some auditors are aware that CVRs exist and others are not. “That seems to result from a communication or training issue,” he said.

Barnett told News Watch in an interview that South Dakota voting machines do produce the CVRs but do not include images of actual ballots that could prove useful to someone trying to reconcile votes cast with vote tallies.

“If their goal is to lower voter confidence statewide, that’s a tool — to ask for something and then say, ‘We asked for it and didn’t get it,’ and that raises suspicion and lowers voter confidence,” Barnett said. “I don’t know what they hope to gain or what the motive is, so some of this is a head-scratcher.”

How To Find Your Personal Voter Information in South Dakota

The South Dakota Secretary of State’s Office provides a Voter Information Portal that enables voters to enter their name and Zip Code or birthdate to determine their legislative, county commission and school board district; to learn their polling location on Election Day; and to view a sample of their ballot. Election questions can also be placed to county auditors, whose contact information can be found below.

CLICK HERE to access the Voter Information Portal.

CLICK HERE to access an online list of all county auditors with name, phone number and email address.

Source: Keloland