Rounds for Senate staffer Justin Rollins got really excited about casting his primary ballot early yesterday. He took a picture of his marked ballot and posted it on Twitter to encourage all of his followers to vote for Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard, "Two great South Dakotan's." Aside from misusing the apostrophe (hey, my typing fingers slip and do it, too), no big deal, right?

Well, Jonathan Ellis points out that displaying your marked ballot violates SDCL 12-18-27:

Marked ballot not to be shown--Folding for deposit in ballot box. No person may show a ballot after it is marked to any person in such a way as to reveal the contents of the ballot, or the name of any candidate for whom the person has marked a vote. Nor may any person solicit the voter to show the voter's ballot. Immediately after marking the ballot the voter shall fold and refold the ballot, if necessary, leaving the official stamp exposed [South Dakota Codified Law 12-18-27, passed 1939, amended 1974, 1976, 1990.].

Rollins tells Ellis he had no idea South Dakota outlawed sharing images of marked ballots. Neither did I. Upon being informed of the law, Rollins deleted the photo tweet.

This issue came up nationwide during the last election, when folks on both sides proudly and propagandistically posted images of their ballots on their social media accounts. Such laws are meant to inhibit vote-buying:

[Boston Reporter David] Bernstein said that, after asking around, he’s come to understand that the law stems from the state not wanting people to buy votes. ”The idea being if someone was buying your vote, you’d take a picture to show that you voted for who they wanted you to vote for,” Bernstein said. “So you could see the thought behind it in that sense” [Nate Goldman, "That Photo Of Your Ballot You Posted On Social Media? It’s Against Mass. Law," WBUR, 2012.11.06].

One may also justify ballot-display bans on grounds of protecting the integrity of the polls. We prohibit electioneering activity at polling places, and taking a photo of your ballot may be construed as electioneering activity.

I see no ill intent in Rollins's ballot photo-tweet. I know I've taken photos of my ballot before (though I can't remember if I posted such photos or if I ultimately just kept them for documentation; I trust some ambitious reader will sift through my online trail to find out). But Rollins's ignorance of the ballot photo ban is worth noting considering his resume:

In the summer of 2010, Justin returned to South Dakota as campaign manager for Jason Gant for Secretary of State. Since the election, he has served as State Election Coordinator in the Secretary of State’s office, serving as the office’s point-of-contact for campaign finance issues, as well as school and municipalities election law [SDGOP, press release, 2011.11.15].

The man who had no idea this election law existed was hired by Secretary of State Jason Gant to explain election law to schools and municipalities. South Dakota, that's the quality in government we got by hiring Jason Gant as our Secretary of State.

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Northern Plains News spotlights a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts measuring the quality of election administration in each state. Their findings offer solid metrics showing that the quality of election administration in South Dakota declined significantly from 2008 to 2012.

In 2008, under the Secretary of Stateship of Chris Nelson, South Dakota scored a 68% on Pew's Election Performance Index, ranking 17th nationwide. In 2010, Secretary Nelson got us up to a 75%, 6th best in the country.

Then came Secretary of State Jason Gant. He gave up whatever progress Nelson had made, dropping our EPI back to 69% and dropping our rank to 29th.

North Dakota and Minnesota ranked 1st and 2nd in 2012; the only state next to us that scored worse was Wyoming, which ranked 33rd. Even Illinois, with all its purported Chicago-style corruption, scored better than South Dakota in administering elections, showing great improvement from 2008 in gathering complete data, reducing barriers to voting for sick and disabled folks, and offering voter information lookup tools.

The Secretary of State isn't entirely to blame. South Dakotans in general haven't been exercising their civic duties in any exemplary fashion. Voter turnout in 2012 was 60.14% (27th in the nation) and voter registration was 83.14% (28th in the nation). We're rather middling in our urge to get out and vote. The Secretary can't make horses drink, but he could certainly set out more water troughs and keep them filled longer instead of trying to drain them.

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Secretary of State Jason Gant announced today that the challenge to fake Republican U.S. Senate candidate Annette Bosworth's nominating petition did not result in the discovery of enough invalid signatures to disquality Bosworth from the primary ballot.

Secretary Gant sent me the following letter explaining his decision at 12:28 CDT this morning:

Dear Mr. Heidelberger:

On April 1, 2014, an affidavit was filed with this office pursuant to SDCL § 12-1-13 challenging certain signatures on Annette Bosworth's Nominating Petition.

The candidate submitted 3,648 signature lines. Of that number, 795 were blank, 275 were registered to vote but not registered Republicans, 125 were not registered and 148 were not valid due to other reasons such as duplicates, invalid date of signing, invalid notary, etc.

State law requires 1,955 valid signatures for a Republican candidate for United Stats Senate. After reviewing the signature lines, we have determined there are 2,305 valid signature lines.

Another issue in the affidavit cited that the circulator was not present at the time of collecting signatures. The Secretary of State does not have the statutory authority to investigate the claims that you list in the affidavit. I have forwarded the affidavit and relevant petition sheets to the Attorney General's office for their review.

This letter is formal notification to you that the challenge to the petition of Annette Bosworth was not successful and her name will continue to appear on the 2014 Primary Ballot as a candidate for United States Senate.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact this office.

Sincerely,

Jason M. Gant, Secretary of State [letter, 2014.04.05]

What, me, hesitate with questions?

At 21:30 CDT, I transmitted the following e-mail to Secretary Gant and cc'ed election office Brandon Johnson, with whom I conducted most of my communication while acquiring Bosworth's petition and preparing my challenge:

Dear Secretary Gant:

Thank you for your reply to my affidavit. In the interest of providing clear information to future petitioneers and petition challengers, as well as citizens seeking a clear understanding of your office's enforcement of election law, I make the following requests:

  1. Please clarify your count of 3,648 signature lines. This number does not match my counts. Your office provided my 277 petition sheets, would include 4,450 total lines, but by my count, those sheets included only 2,868 signature lines with information entered on them (including scratch-outs). Did I receive all petition sheets?
  2. Please provide responses to the specific challenges laid out in my affidavit of April 1, 2014, Items 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13.
  3. If possible, please provide an itemized list of individual signatures rejected and the reasons for rejection. If you have such a list that aligns with the coding (by page and line #) that I used in the spreadsheets I submitted with my affidavit, I would be very grateful.
  4. Along with itemizing rejected signatures, please itemize any rejected sheets and the reasons for their rejection.
  5. As far as I can tell, your response letter offers no response to Item 18, the challenge to eligibility for the office sought of the individual named at the top of the petition. While Items 3, 4, and 5 may lie outside the authority of your office to investigate and require action by the Attorney General, Item 18 offers a very specific question about petition requirements, which is within your purview to determine. Please respond to Item 18: can a nominating petition be valid when the name of the candidate does not appear in the voter registration database?

I thank you for your attention this challenge. I especially thank you for acting on Item 20.4 and forwarding the evidence of fraudulent petition activity to the Attorney General. If I can be of any assistance in further investigation of this petition, please contact me.

Sincerely,

Cory Allen Heidelberger [letter to Secretary of State Jason M. Gant, 2014.04.05]

Peter Harriman of that Sioux Falls paper reports that Attorney General Marty Jackley is spending his weekend contacting Secretary Gant, his litigation team, the DCI, the Bosworth campaign, and me. AG Jackley, I eagerly await your call.

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Here I thought Shantel Krebs was the South Dakota Republican Party's hero, or at least their dutiful heavy, for uprooting the scandalously incompetent Jason Gant from the 2014 candidates' garden. But now some Republicans sound like they want to throw her back in the dirt and run someone with experience for the job: Deputy Secretary of State Patricia Miller.

Miller, the wife of former governor Walter Dale Miller, joined Gant's office in 2012 to clean up the mess left by Gant and his less-capable pals. The Miller SoS office has been relatively trouble-free compared to the first two years of Gant's machinations.

Rumblings of discontent with Krebs's grab for the big chair and an effort to draft Pat Miller to run for full-bird Secretary come from the Dakota War College comment section. I lend little credence to what I read there, but DWC author Pat Powers takes his own comments seriously enough to post a response from SDGOP chairman Craig Lawrence that further fans the former First Lady's flames:

I talked with Pat Miller several times both before and after the dinner. She is, obviously, considering running for SOS, and asked my opinion. I also enjoyed talking with Walter Dale, a great statesman and ambassador for West River.

The opinion I have offered to Pat is that I encourage her to run because as Republicans we should be gratified when we have two such qualified and respected candidates. My job is to encourage debate and healthy competition [Craig Lawrence, quoted in Pat Powers, "State Party Chair Weighs in on [another four-line headline that demonstrates Pat's continued incapacity for succinctity]," Dakota War College, 2014.03.24].

Debate and healthy competition: I'm all for that too, Chairman Lawrence! Pat Miller offers the strongest alternative that anyone could to a Krebs candidacy. The Deputy Secretary can appeal to Republicans who may recall that things didn't work out so well the last time they picked an aspiring legislator over an experienced elections officer for Secretary of State. Miller could soothe Republicans' jitters, offering a break from Gant yet continuity with operations and with party history. As frosting to drown the taste of Krebs's perhaps bitter intra-party challenge to Gant, she gives GOP convention delegates a chance to vote for a nice older lady and tip their hats to that nice old codger Walter Dale.

If I were Krebs, I'd be intensely lobbying delegates to not draft Miller, because Miller poses a serious threat to Krebs' statewide ascension.

3 comments

We're down, we're up, we're down... and we're up!

Secretary of State Jason Gant appears to be getting the message that discrimination isn't cool. After the rejection of his Indian voter-suppression bill in committee last month and blowback from an initial Help America Vote Act state plan draft that blatantly ignored calls for improved American Indian access to early voting, Secretary Gant is circulating a new HAVA draft plan that includes provisions to support Indian voters.

The big addition is in Section 12, which originally stopped with the line, "The State anticipates no major changes to its implementation of HAVA." The new February draft adds, "...except that Title II Section 251 funds may now be used for additional in-person satellite absentee voting locations provided they meet the criteria set out in this plan."

The criteria for satellite early-voting stations are those proposed by Indian advocacy group Four Directions in December. If voters in a precinct, township, or other jurisdiction are 50% less likely to have cars, 50% more likely to live in poverty, and 50% farther from the county seat than the rest of their county residents, their county commission may use HAVA funds to set up a satellite early-voting station in their jurisdiction. The draft pre-approves Buffalo, Dewey, and Jackson counties for this HAVA spending.

To approve HAVA funds for voter-access projects, the original draft created a HAVA Grant Board that had no members of tribal communities. The revised draft replaces one of two representatives of disabled voters with a representative from the Department of Tribal Relations. Keep an asterisk by this proposal: that's still a flunky of the Governor and not necessarily someone straight from the tribes. But as gravy, the new draft specifies that the HAVA Grant Board will be subject to open meetings laws.

Bret Healy of Four Directions says he's headed into the HAVA task force's February 26 meeting with renewed cautious optimism. Four Directions has had to fight far harder than it should have to get the Secretary of State to use Help America Vote funds to help American Indians vote, but South Dakota now seems poised to do the right thing and give our Native neighbors the same easy access to early voting that the rest of us enjoy.

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The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) task force may yet do the right thing for South Dakota's Indian voters. Last week Secretary of State Jason Gant released a draft HAVA state plan that ignored concerns raised about voting access for Indian voters in remote, economically disadvantaged Native communities. At last Wednesday's task force meeting, advocates for Indian voting rights were able to get those concerns back on the table.

O.J. Semans of Indian voting rights advocacy group Four Directions tells me that the task force added "economic disadvantage" to the list of voting access issues the state will try to tackle with HAVA funds. The task force revised the composition of a proposed HAVA Grant Board by replacing one of the proposed two representatives of the disabled community with a representative from the state tribal relations office.

Most importantly, the task force is considering two additions to the HAVA state plan to make funds available for satellite early voting stations. Under one proposal, the HAVA state plan would pre-approve Dewey, Jackson, and Buffalo counties—all with large Indian communities long drives from their county courthouses—to receive HAVA funds to set up satellite stations nearer the Indian centers of population where voters could walk in and cast ballots during the standard 46 days before an election. The alternative proposal would require all counties but Shannon and Todd—counties with large Lakota populations and no courthouse—to apply for HAVA grants. The state would provide HAVA support for satellite early voting centers based on the criteria proposed by Four Directions.

Secretary Gant appears to be clinging to the notion (hope?) that it might not be legal for him to use Help America Vote Act money to help American Indians vote. David Montgomery reports that Gant says we still need a ruling from the hamstrung Election Assistance Commission. Gant warns that if the defunct EAC gets its funct back and rules early voting centers are not a proper use of HAVA funds, counties would have to pay back grants for such activities.

Semans reports that three Democratic legislators—Senator Angie Buhl O'Donnell, Rep. Karen Soli, and Rep. Troy Heinert—attended the HAVA task force meeting to show their support for Four Directions. We Democrats don't mind being the only folks fighting for Indian voting rights, but we'd be happier if everyone supported our Lakota neighbors' right to vote.

The HAVA task force meets one last time on February 26, then kicks the plan up the Board of Elections, which, duly upbraided by the killing of its oppressive Senate Bill 33, had better have its head screwed back on straight and vote to fund the satellite early voting stations at its March 17 meeting.

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South Dakota's ad hoc Help America Vote Act (HAVA) task force meets tomorrow (Wednesday) at Pierre's Red Rossa (Hills Room, 10 a.m. CST). The Italian diner is an appropriate setting, as the Sage Chickens of the Board of Elections are trying to Bruschetta off South Dakota's #1 voting rights problem by Caprese Stacking the deck against Indian voters.

Secretary of State Jason Gant convened the HAVA task force last year in response to the bad publicity that arose when he obstructed and obfuscated over a proposal to use Help America Vote Act money to help Americans vote with satellite early voting stations in Fort Thompson, Wanblee, and Eagle Butte. The task force has spent much of its time (about half, estimates Bret Healy, who's been there on behalf of Four Directions) discussing these proposed voting stations and American Indian voting access. At the task force's December meeting, Bret Healy of Four Directions offered reasonable criteria and funding estimates for such voting stations. Healy's proposal received what seemed to be a favorable reception.

For tomorrow's meeting, Secretary Gant has drafted a new HAVA State Plan. In fourteen pages, the terms "American Indian," "Native American," "early voting," and "satellite" appear not once. The draft includes mention of paying for voting stations in Shannon and Todd counties—you know, the ones it took a federal lawsuit to get—but the main proposal that provoked these meetings gets no mention. The closest the draft comes to addressing other Indian voting issues is a mention of funding for Lakota language assistance.

The draft plan proposes to spend all remaining HAVA funds on "training election officials, educating voters, improving the accessibility of elections for individuals with disabilities, and making improvements to the administration of federal elections." Secretary Gant offers a laundry list of activities that jump to his mind as priorities for HAVA spending, none of which address the topic that brought the HAVA task force together in the first place:

Examples of such activities include but are not limited to:

  • The cost implementing and maintaining TotalVote (Statewide Computer Registration System);
  • Election night reporting;
  • Applications for mobile devices;
  • Secretary of State staff salaries and benefits;
  • Office computers, supplies and rent;
  • The use of electronic pollbooks in federal elections; and
  • Programs that help improve the accuracy and efficiency of the State’s voter registration list ["Help America Vote Act Revised State Plan 2014," draft, issued by South Dakota Secretary of State, 2014.01.27].

Secretary Gant also proposes a HAVA Grant Board to help county auditors comply with HAVA:

The Secretary of State, with the approval of the State Board of Elections, will establish a HAVA Grant Board, consisting of three County Auditors (one from a large population county, one from a middle population county and one from a small population county), the Senior Elections Coordinator, and two members from the disability community. This board is responsible for developing, reviewing, and making recommendations to the Secretary of State in matters pertaining to the local government grant program [HAVA Revised State Plan 2014," draft, 2014.01.27].

If folks with canes and wheelchairs need two representatives on a HAVA grant board, our Lakota brothers and sisters need at least five. But Secretary Gant provides for no American Indian representatives on this grant board, not even an official from a county with a significant American Indian population.

Indian voting rights are the central problem in South Dakota elections. South Dakota has a history of losing court cases over diffusion and denial of Indian voting rights. If any Americans need help voting, it's South Dakota's American Indians. Yet Secretary Gant's draft HAVA plan reads as if our Lakota neighbors needed nothing more than translators to secure their equal voting rights.

Secretary Gant has told some task force members that this plan is just a draft, that it's a group effort, that there's still time to add and amend. But the fact that Gant omits from this draft any mention of the salient voting rights issue discussed by the task force makes clear he has no intention to do anything to rectify that issue.

Secretary Gant's draft Help America Vote Act plan asserts three times that "South Dakota is HAVA compliant." Yet the only concrete action he has taken to improve Indian voting rights during the term of the current HAVA task force is to advocate a state law that would eliminate funding for satellite voting stations that improve Indian voter turnout.

The actions of Secretary Gant and the Board of Elections paint a dismal picture of South Dakota's commitment to equality:

When one evaluates the actions of the South Dakota Board of Elections and the chair of that Board Secretary of State Gant toward the request for equal opportunity to vote for Native American voters, one is left to conclude they have decided to treat equal voting opportunities for Native American voters as a cancer that must be contained to just Shannon and Todd counties [Bret Healy, e-mail, 2014.01.27].

South Dakota is not just ignoring Indian voters; state officials like Jason Gant are actively opposing their equal access to the ballot. South Dakota is not complying with the Help America Vote Act. South Dakota is flouting it and trying to stop the First Americans from voting.

Indian voters, you might want to drop by Red Rossa in Pierre tomorrow morning and remind the task force why they were convened in the first place.

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The Senate Local Government committee showed some practical sense this morning and killed Senate Bill 33, Secretary of State Jason Gant's latest Indian-voter-suppression trick.

In remarkably vague testimony relying mostly on general xenophobia, Secretary Gant testified that the intent of Senate Bill 33 was to ensure that outside money can't influence or buy our election activities. Secretary Gant worried that letting anyone other than government fund the operation of voting stations would allow outside groups to influence turnout and vote results.

Sioux Falls Senators Deb Soholt (R-14) and Senator Angie Buhl O'Donnell (D-15) immediately asked Secretary Gant for specific examples of the improper influence that Senate Bill 33 would target. Secretary Gant refused to name any specific, extant threat of improper influence. Senator Soholt asked twice for Secretary Gant to explain how place currently served by satellite voting stations funded by outside parties would maintain voting access if SB 33 passed. Twice Secretary Gant dodged the question, first replying, "I wouldn't know what the future is going to hold in those areas," then scrambling for cover under his imagined red herring that a "New York billionaire" would donate money to a county to run its elections but only on the condition that the county place extra voting stations in the east side of the county to bias the vote.

Secretary Gant's real target, Indian vote advocates Four Directions, was there to talk specifics. Four Directions exec O.J. Semans testified that his group is the only group currently engaging in the election funding that Sec. Gant wants to ban with SB 33. Semans said that his group's efforts have increased voter turnout in Shannon and Todd counties by 130% since 2004. He said that thanks to their funding a satellite voting station in Fort Thompson in the 2012 election, Buffalo County had the second-highest voter turnout in South Dakota.

Semans said it's hard to see how increasing voter turnout influences elections negatively. He said that helping tribes participate in elections is crucial to improving their social condition. Senate Bill 33, said Semans, is an effort to keep tribes out of the political process and thus leave them stuck in their poor status quo conditions. That kind of voter suppression, said Semans, would only make tribal-White relations in South Dakota worse.

Senator Soholt got Semans to admit that Four Directions is funded primarily by out-of-state tribes. Semans noted that South Dakota's tribes are among the poorest in the nation and thus can't afford to fund such voting centers.

Senator Jean Hunhoff (R-18/Yankton) turned to an issue that alarmed her Republican sensibilities: local control. Right now, counties and school districts are free to accept or reject offers of financial assistance to set up voting centers. Senate Bill 33 would take away that local control; Secretary Gant and the Legislature would make that decision for them, in the negative.

Senator Craig Tieszen (R-34/Rapid City) finally brought up the "elephant in the room": Indians tend to vote Democratic, and increasing Indian turnout increases the Indian vote. To keep from sounding like a partisan racist, Senator Tieszen proposed a hypothetical: suppose the national Republican Party or some surrogate thereof decided to counter Four Directions' efforts by funding more voting centers on the street corners of his very Republican district in Rapid City. Senator Tieszen suggested that political tactic would be a logical progression and one that he apparently finds objectionable.

Senator Buhl O'Donnell rejected the notion of unfairness in outside funding for voting centers. She said the one example on the table of such efforts has local officials identifying voting access problems. Local officials can't get the state to help, so they choose to accept help from a willing third party. They use this outside money to provide satelite voting stations that confer no special privileges but simply give their local constituents the same access to voting that everyone else in the state gets. Senate Bill 33, said Buhl O'Donnell, puts tribal communities in a tight spot.

Senator Hunhoff generously acknowledged both Tieszen's and Buhl O'Donnell's points as reasonable, but turned to reality versus hypotheticals. The two fundamental issues for Hunhoff are local control and voting access. Right now, Four Directions helps provide voting access. Local governments can choose to accept that help. Senator Hunhoff sees no reason to monkey with that formula.

Senator Holien moved to kill Senate Bill 33 by sending it to the non-existent 41st day of the Legislative calendar (you know you're from South Dakota when "41st day" means something other than Noah putting away his umbrella). Senators Hunhoff, Soholt, Buhl O'Donnell, and Chairman Mark Kirkeby (R-35/Rapid City) joined Holien in killing SB 33; only Senator Tieszen voted for it. (Senator Dan Lederman missed the fun.)

The Senate Local Government committee took a welcome stand for American Indian voting access this morning. They rejected a thinly cloaked voter-suppression effort by Secretary Gant. Instead of buying into manufactured fear of outsiders and hypothetical slippery slopes, they focused on the practical good of helping South Dakotans vote.

17 comments

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