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Eliminate 70% of Early Voting, Just Because, Say Perry, Weis, and Greenfield

Why did Brock Greenfield change his mind? We still don’t know.

Aberdeen activist Justin Roemmick asked gentlemen who fared better than he in last November’s election to explain why they support House Bill 1178, a measure that would slash your time to vote early and absentee from 46 days to 14. “With the call on the national stage for elections to be more inclusive, open, and have easier access, how can you defend the 1178 restricting the amount of time… for early voting in elections?”

Now let’s establish the ground rules for evaluating responses to Roemmick’s question. From a classically conservative perspective, persons proposing to change the status quo have the burden of proof. The status quo is 46 days of early voting. HB 1178 seeks to change that status quo, drastically. The supporters of this drastic change thus have the burden of showing that 46 days of early voting causes harm. Supporters of HB 1178 must additionally show that their change will rectify that harm without creating worse harms of its own.

Representative Carl Perry (R-3/Aberdeen), a co-sponsor of HB 1178, said “46 days for early voting in my opinion is too long.”

He offered no reason for that claim, no harms arising from the 46-day early-voting period, and no justification for reducing it to 14 days or the “ballpark” figure of 24 days that he seems to be preparing to offer as a false compromise.

Rep. Perry was also off by one on the average early voting period: it’s 22 days, not 21. But that statistic is descriptive, not normative: that average says nothing about why any number deviating from the average or below our above-average length is better in practice or in principle. To analogize in terms Republicans will understand, the fact that the nationwide average abortion rate in 2014 was 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age has nothing to do with whether we should aim for something close to 14.6 abortions per year. (Watch: Republicans misunderstand my point and say, “You’re right! We should aim for zero days of early voting!”)

“Hopefully, that answers your question,” Representative Perry concluded. No, Representative Perry, that does not answer Roemmick’s question.

Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark), the Senate prime sponsor of HB 1178, said “46 days does seem long; relatively speaking it is long.” But again: who said “long” is “bad”?

Senator Greenfield then mentioned seeing an e-mail featuring the same question that Roemmick posed, “so I know that there’s a concerted effort to gin up some feelings on certain issues, and obviously this is going to be one.” Hmmm… so if multiple people have the same question about an issue, isn’t that all the more reason to offer a solidly reasoned response?

Senator Greenfield attempts something like a reasoned response, pointing out that early voting requires early ballot printing.  However, as I reported on Tuesday, HB 1178 does not change the early deadlines for printing and delivering ballots. It only takes away 32 days of voting access.

Senator Greenfield says that early voting can result in being unable to remove withdrawn candidates’ names from the ballot or to place replacement candidates on the ballot. However, HB 1178 does not extend the deadline for withdrawing or replacing candidates on the ballot. It only takes away 32 days of voting access.

Senator Greenfield admits that auditors have said 14 days is too short, leaving them in a time crunch. So good—we’ve established a reason why a short early-voting period is bad. However, Senator Greenfield still hasn’t established why crunching the auditors’ time by any amount is a good or necessary idea. He thus proceeds without warrant to advocate a “middle ground”—24 to 30 days—without any reason for abandoning our current ground of 46 days, which gives lots of people lots of opportunities to vote with no apparent harms that are addressed by HB 1178.

Senator Greenfield then reaches for vague and unsupported anecdote: “There were minds changed after people had voted. I had that expressed to me.”

Ignore Greenfield’s sloshing about in passive voice and analyze the logical point he’s attempting to make: if the possibility that we might change our minds justifies postponing the opportunity to vote, why does the Legislature hold any committee hearings in January? Shouldn’t we just have testimony and more chance for research until March 1, then have legislators vote on everything in the last few days of Session?

Or why do we hold our elections on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November? People vote on Election Day and then change their minds (Trump popular vote, November 8, 2016: 46.1%; Trump approval rating, February 3, 2019: 39.6%); Senator Greenfield’s principle justifies postponing elections indefinitely.

Human nature suggests it’s just as likely that a voter could change her mind on Election Day or on E-minus 1 day, E-minus 13 days, or E-minus 29 days as on E-minus 46 days. Minds always change; Greenfield doesn’t offer any threshold that says when the potential for minds to change is too great for the state to let people vote.

Besides, right now, no one has to vote early. If we have any doubt about how we want to vote, we don’t have to vote early. We can wait until 6:59 p.m. Election Night for that last campaign call or late-breaking exposé on Dakota Free Press to cast our ballots. We don’t need Brock, Carl, or HB 1178 to hold our hands and protect us from our own minds.

“Voters may change their minds” is thus a moot argument for changing the status quo.

On prompting from radio man Adam St. Paul, Senator Greenfield admits that the concern voters have most frequently voice to him by e-mail (what? the same concern from multiple sources? isn’t that just some “concerted effort to gin up some feelings”?) is that military voters might not get their ballots in time. Senator Greenfield thus acknowledges that inherent good of a longer early-voting period: more time means more chance to vote, and less time means people lose the chance to vote.

Senator Greenfield then asserts that “we do have to determine what other states are doing relative to the timeframe, because if they can make it work with a 21-day window or a 28-day window, so can South Dakota.” But why, Senator Greenfield? When has the fact that Minnesota does X ever driven you and your fellow legislators to say South Dakota should also do X? Your party leaders and governors pride themselves on pointing out how South Dakota does things differently from other states, who from the sounds of the typical State of the State Address, are all world-class screw-ups.

So so far, all we’ve heard in defense of HB 1178 from Republicans is, We don’t like 46 days, and other states do less, so so should we.

Representative Kaleb Weis (R-2/Aberdeen) doesn’t move the case forward. He says we need the 46 days to ensure there’s time for the voters to go out and back by mail… which by itself is reason to vote HB 1178 down.

Representative Drew Dennert (R-3/Aberdeen) admits he voted on the first day of early voting in 2018. (So did I, Drew! Way to represent!) He doesn’t seem to be suffering from any October mind-changing.

Representative Dennert says there are arguments to shorten early voting, but he specifies only two weak arguments:

  1. In 2018, the Constitution party was still suing to get candidates on the ballot after early voting started. Good grief: if we have to wait for the Constitution Party to get its act together before we print ballots, we’ll never have an election.
  2. In the 2016 primary, “someone” (why is it so hard for legislators to give specific, verifiable examples to support their claims?) early voted for a Presidential primary candidate who then dropped out before primary day. But again, non-unique: if the possibility that a candidate will drop out or die before the election justifies postponing votes, we’ll never have an election. No matter when we vote, we face uncertainty. We pays our money and we takes our choice.

Senator Greenfield pops up after Representative Dennert’s “wonderful” response to claim that the 46-day early voting period has only been on the books since 2013:

Senator Greenfield’s statement is false. He looked up SDCL 12-19-1.2, the forty-six-day early-voting law that HB 1178 amends, saw that it was enacted in 2013, and concluded that 46 days started then. But the 2013 Session law (Chapter 66) to which it refers simply moved that 46-day requirement from another statute. The 46-day mandate was actually written into the law in 2011 Session law Chapter 79HB 1141, which passed Greenfield’s House unanimously.

So in 2011, Brock Greenfield voted to make early voting available for 46 days. Senator Greenfield himself once thought this was a good idea. Senator Greenfield could tell us why his mind has changed since then… but he didn’t clearly tell us yesterday. Neither did anyone else clearly affirm why we should slash early-voting opportunities in South Dakota by more than a month.

We’ve allowed no-excuse early voting in South Dakota since at least 2004. In 2000, the Secretary of State’s election calendar said absentee voting could begin whenever ballots were available (that year, by September 26). As the brief 2011 floor debate makes clear, the Legislature wrote 46 days into law just to make the start date consistent statewide. No one, Greenfield included, rose to say, “Gee whiz, 46 days seems awfully long” then; no one at yesterday’s crackerbarrel offered a solid reason for saying so now.

Justin Roemmick’s question remains unanswered; 46 days remains unimpugned as a reasonable status quo period for early voting.


  1. Ben Cerwinske 2019-02-03 15:49

    I recall hearing about research saying people generally have their minds made up a month out from election day. If they want to reduce it to 30 days, I guess I don’t see the harm, but no less than that.

  2. Bucko Bear 2019-02-03 16:24

    Old Sayin’: ” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

  3. grudznick 2019-02-03 16:27

    Oh, there are harms from this long slackard period, there are harms. If not, then why cannot the legislatures start voting on a bill on Monday and let it drag out until Friday when the hammer falls? If you want to vote, show up when the voting is. And yes, this means Mr. Novstrup, the elder, who is drawing big salary and lunch dollars for days he did not even go to the legislatures.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-03 16:40

    Ben, I’d like to see the research supporting that 30-day figure.

    Of course, from the conservative policymaking perspective, saying “it wouldn’t hurt” isn’t the same as saying, “It will help.” And I will contend it will hurt: thousands of South Dakotans voted between E-minus 46 and E-minus 30 in 2018. They made the polls less crowded on subsequent days. The more people we crowd into a smaller voting period, the longer the lines, and the more voters we’ll deter from waiting and voting.

    I will support no reduction in the amount of time allowed to vote until someone shows me real harm done by allowing early voting to start 46 days before the election that outweighs the convenience created.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-03 16:41

    Buckobear puts it far more simply… and that’s the same way traditional policy debate coaches put it. No one has shown me that 46-day early voting is broken. I see nothing to fix

  6. Roger Cornelius 2019-02-03 16:56

    The legislature should follow the lead of freshman New York state representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and vote for a state holiday for voting.
    You know a national holiday for voting is a really good idea because Sen. McTurtle is opposing the idea calling it a power grab.

  7. W R Old Guy 2019-02-03 16:57

    Could it be that some of the PACs that flood our mailboxes in the final days before the election with all those “truths” about a candidate do not like a long early voting period because their message has no effect on someone who already voted?

    I have also heard people say that a person who dies prior to election day should have their vote thrown out.

    It is a 40 mile round trip for me to vote early and I do so when I have other business in town. I find it much more convenient.

  8. Francis Schaffer 2019-02-03 17:11

    The law is that anyone who has voted prior to election day and dies will have their vote thrown out. It is currently in SD codified law so people who say it shouldn’t count should be relieved and/or look up the law to answer that situation.

  9. Porter Lansing 2019-02-03 17:19

    Cynical Porter agrees with W R Old Guy’s first paragraph. There’s a lot of slime thrown down in the last two weeks by slimy Republican operatives. It hurts their budget to think less people will be slimed, if they’ve already tuned out.

  10. o 2019-02-03 17:50

    Am I the only one thinking the reason is that we AMOST elected a Democrat governor? More people voting = more Democrat votes; that at least seems to be the national trends.

  11. Donald Pay 2019-02-03 21:53

    The Republican solution to the problem of the people actually having the power in a democratic republic is restrict voting as much as possible. Restricting early voting was also done in the lame duck session of the Wisconsin Legislature after Scott Walker lost. It has already been struck down by a federal court.

  12. Wayne B. 2019-02-04 08:29

    In classical debate fashion:

    1) According to a study picked up by Pew Research, early voting actually depresses voting turnout by 3-4%


    These researchers say it’s because early voting robs “Election Day of its stimulating effects,” reducing social pressure to vote and gives less reason for campaigns to motivate their supporters and get them to the polls.


    1b) The same study notes that same day registration is most conclusive at increasing votes cast.

    2) Early voting eliminates an opportunity to have late game debates change opinions. Think about the Noem-Sutton debates in October, and how any nuggets gleaned or bombshells dropped can’t impact those who cast their ballots early.

  13. Donald Pay 2019-02-04 09:33

    Yes, Wayne, I agree that early voting can depress voter turnout in the election. Early voting has to be combined with other measures to be effective in spurring more turnout.

    That “stimulating effect” is peer pressure to go vote. That is really high on election day, and it can be particularly important in driving loosely affiliated and not particularly motivated voters to the polls . And I agree with the idea that late campaign issues can affect a vote. You also have the fact that ballot measures tend to get coverage late in the campaign cycle.

    Early voting may be more of a “customer friendly” effort meant for those who vote regularly, the highly motivated, the party faithful, the young and busy and the elderly. It does allow for fewer lines at the polls so that less motivated voters won’t be discouraged from voting by long lines.

    When social and educational events are added to the mix of early voting, it can be a very good way to encourage voters. In the black community there is also a cultural component that has developed in minority neighborhoods, called “Souls to the Polls” Sunday, where people gather on the Sunday before election day to discuss issues and walk together to an early voting station. Republicans have tried to shut these efforts down by banning voting on the Sunday before election day.

    if you combine early voting with other voter friendly measures, such as same day registration and enough polling places to assure short lines, you get much better turnout. Also, making elections fun through efforts like Souls to the Polls makes a lot of sense.

  14. bearcreekbat 2019-02-04 11:50

    Maximizing, or at least increasing, voter turnout seems to be a goal of many folks, with the unspoken premise that higher voter turnout benefits democracy or the public good. Upon reflection, I’m having a bit of trouble seeing any positive connection between higher voter turnout and the public good.

    First, a caveat. If by seeking higher voter turnout we mean making sure informed people who desire to vote are not denied that opportunity, then that goal makes perfect sense. No one who wants to vote should be denied that opportunity, whether by poll taxes, remote voting locations, denial of early voting, disenfranchisement based on factors beyond their own control, or for any other reason.

    For others, such as folks who have little or no interest in candidates, political, social or economic issues, public policy, etc, and simply have little or no desire to vote, I am hard pressed to see any public benefit in encouraging them to vote simply to increase voter turnout. Is society really any better off by having people who simply could care less be encouraged to vote for candidates or policies that they have no understanding about?

    While shortening the time period for early voting seems a stupid and non-productive goal at this point if it denies someone who wants to vote that opportunity, the fact that fewer folks might vote with less time to do so may well have more to do with lack of interest than lack of opportunity.

  15. Porter Lansing 2019-02-04 13:11

    What if you had a week to vote from the beginning of the ballot to the last policy issue? If, after every question and candidate, you had time to GOOGLE around and see both sides of the item? What if you could “ask a friend” as many times as you choose? What if a group of friends and family all sat down at the dining room table and voted together, with snacks and beverages? Maybe those at the table proclaim their vote and maybe they keep their choices to them selves. What if election costs came way down to the government?
    VOTE BY MAIL ~ NO FRAUD – ONE MORE CHOICE (along with all the voting options you already have) – PROVEN TO BE BIPARTISAN

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-08 05:44

    Wayne raises an interesting point, that maybe to inspire more people to vote we actually have to make voting harder. I wonder: since passage of the ADA, have fewer people in wheelchairs gone to the library?

    I appreciate Wayne’s point about late surprises, but there is another side: perhaps we should pressure campaigns to put all the information out as early as possible, so that people have a longer time to think about and so the press has more time to analyze and fact-check. Do we really want our Governor chosen on the basis of last-minute allegations that shock the electorate the day before the election but to which the candidate has no chance to effectively respond? To jump into my own debate mode, that’s why in policy debate we have 32 minutes of constructive speeches followed by 20 minutes of rebuttals in which no new arguments are allowed. If candidates and PACs have some smashing attacks to launch, they should launch them on September 21 so we all have time to study them and see if provocative claims are true and justify voting one way or the other.

    On that note, I had more than one source contact me with scandalous information during the last week of the 2018 campaign with supposedly damning information about candidates. I didn’t do much with that info, and I recommended candidates not jump on it, either. After all, if that information was so powerful, why didn’t the sources come forward sooner? I get the feeling some folks want to pretend they are really important by waiting for the last minute, then coming in an persuading a professional campaign that they should totally change their strategy and latch onto this one self-professed savior-sources’s new information, even though the source is afraid that his/her claim wouldn’t stand up to longer scrutiny.

    The truth will withstand long scrutiny. Respect the voters by putting information out sooner rather than later. Curtailing early voting seems a trick, as suggested above, to facilitate scurrilous and expensive last-minute attacks.

    I can’t help wondering: could candidates reverse that formula and adopt nuclear-war first-strike thinking? Destroy your opponent from the start so he or she can’t respond?

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