Last night I noted that that the main idea of a Dakota Free Press readers’ bill on requiring 80% landowner consensus to invoke eminent domain has been filed as a real bill in the South Dakota Legislature. Now I notice a second Dakota Free Press readers’ bill has popped up in the real Legislative hopper!
Senate Bill 164 is the measure on clarifying voter residence that Senator Craig Tieszen promised to bring to address concerns about tax-dodging RVers who don’t really live in South Dakota registering to vote here and swaying our elections. It adds the following language to our currently somewhat fuzzy SDCL 12-1-4 defining voter residence:
No person may register to vote using a business location, campground, or post office box as the registration address. However, if no other residential address or valid physical description of the location of the residence is available, the person may appeal to the county auditor in the county of registration. The county auditor shall determine residency based on the following principles:
- The sole basis for the person’s presence at the location is not based on a business or a commercial use, such as a mail forwarding service;
- The residence of the person is a place in which the person’s habitation is fixed and to which the person has a definite plan to return following an absence;
- The person is not claiming residency of the state solely for taxation or insurance purposes with no intention of physically remaining or returning; and
- The person maintains a physical domicile with long-term sleeping accommodations at the residence.
If the county auditor denies the registration, the person may appeal to the Office of Hearing Examiners as a contested case pursuant to chapter 1-26D for the determination of residency. If the person does not meet the principles listed, the administrative law judge may still choose to allow voter registration if the judge determines circumstances indicate legitimate residence of the state. Prior long-term residence in the state shall be considered proof of intention to return to the state [Senate Bill 164, filed 2016.02.04].
Compare Senator Tieszen’s language to the conditions this blog proposed adding to the definition of voter residence before Session began in DFP Bill #2:
To satisfy this definition of residence, a person not currently on active military duty must maintain and list as his or her address on his or her voter registration application a physical address at which is located a physical domicile with sleeping accommodations. Undeveloped plots of land, post office boxes, mail-forwarding service addresses, campgrounds, commercial short-term lodging establishments, and other non-residential addresses do not satisfy the definition of residence for voting purposes. Valid physical residences for voting purposes include but are not limited to residential property, apartment buildings, mobile home parks, homeless shelters, assisted-living facilities, long-term care facilities, and residence halls at educational institutions [“Dakota Free Press Bill #2: Clarifying Voting Residence in South Dakota,” Dakota Free Press, 2016.01.10].
We and Tieszen both ban post office boxes, campgrounds, and businesses as voter registration addresses. DFP Bill #2 goes further in specifying types of addresses that would pass muster for voter registration.
Compare further the language DFP Bill #2 offers for determining valid addresses:
If the Secretary of State, county auditor, or other official in charge of voter registration and/or an election has reason to believe that one or more individuals have applied for or obtained voter registration by claiming voting residence at an address that does not satisfy the definition of voting residence given in § 12-1-4, that election official shall visit the given address to verify that a physical domicile with sleeping accommodations is located at that address. If the election official does not find at that address a physical domicile at which all individuals registered to vote at that address could practically sleep at the same time, the election official shall report that address to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State shall purge all individuals registered to vote at that address from the voter registration records [DFP Bill #2, 2016.01.10].
DFP Bill #2 directs election officials to go check addresses for actual physical domiciles with sleeping accommodations. SB 164 includes that point as the fourth criterion a county auditor would use to determine the validity of a voter address. But Senator Tieszen also includes a criterion that directly challenges the itinerants who set up “residence” at a South Dakota mailbox solely for lower taxes and cheaper insurance.
Notice that Senator Tieszen’s four criteria are linked by an “and,” which indicates that a county auditor may reject a voter registration under SB 164 only if all four criteria are met. Absent that “and”, devious Democrats could use that “solely for taxation and insurance purposes” criterion to strike from the voter rolls Dennis Daugaard and any other Republicans who brag about South Dakota’s low taxes. Hee hee!
But Senator Tieszen’s extended criteria also make SB 164 as hard to enforce as the current definition of voter residence. His criteria speak of the person’s “plan” and “intention.” Intent is exactly the word that fuzzifies the current definition: how does a county auditor know that the person submitting a voter registration card doesn’t intend to come back to South Dakota? How does a county auditor know that an RVer renting a lot at the “City” of Buffalo Chip doesn’t have a plan to come back next year, buy some land, and build a good solid yurt?
SB 164 includes prior long-term residence in South Dakota as proof of intention to return. That clause addresses the concern expressed by frequent commenter Bearcreekbat that DFP Bill #2 would disenfranchise his RVing relatives who are lifelong South Dakotans but are now enjoying retirement on the open road. But SB 164’s prior-residence allowance would also allow a person who lived here for a few years as a kid, then went away to college, lived and worked elsewhere, but now has retired and registered an RV in Hanson County to get low taxes and cheap license plates to count as a resident voter.
We will not find perfect, absolute language, but Senator Tieszen might want to consider paring down his criteria to the objective ones that don’t require a county auditor to read an applicant’s mind: commercial nature of the address, presence of a permanent domicile with long-term sleeping quarters, and prior long-term residence.
But even so amended, SB 164 still raises the same concern as DFP Bill #2 does among many readers: fundamentally, these bills make it harder for certain people to vote. Amidst numerous Republican attempts to make it harder for Indians, low-income folks, and others to vote, can we Democrats in good conscience support a bill that makes it harder for travelers who tend to be wealthier, older, and whiter(?) to vote?