Secretary of State Steve Barnett’s renewed push for online voter registration went nowhere fast last week. Senate State Affairs didn’t just kill Senate Bill 24; they hoghoused it to allow registered voters to submit address changes online but to explicitly forbid online voter registration.
This reversal came after proponent testimony from Secretary Barnett, the AARP, the League of Women Voters, and several regular citizens of the 21st century who recognize the value of making it easier for citizens to participate in democracy. No one came to testify against SB 24. But Republicans declined to act, saying driving an hour to the courthouse is better than rushing progress:
In what appeared to be an argument against the bill in its original form, [Sen. Jim] Bolin [R-16/Canton] said that most South Dakotans do not have to travel that far to their county courthouse.
“I believe the current system works well. We have a substantial number of people registered to vote already in South Dakota… By my calculations the furthest anyone has to travel to get to their county courthouse in South Dakota is about 120 to 130 miles in Meade County.”
…Senator Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) who introduced the original bill to the committee, also voted in favor of the amended version. He said that given the evolution of technology, the day was coming for online voter registration, but it was not today. He did not provide clarity on why he felt it was too early to have online voter registration.
“That train is coming… this may not be the best year to do it because of the election.” Schoenbeck said. State Sen. Casey Crabtree (R-Madison) echoed Schoenbeck’s sentiment [Austin Goss, “SD State Senate Committee Takes up Online Voter Registration,” KSFY, 2021.01.22].
I’m not sure what Senator Schoenbeck thinks we need to wait for. Last year’s election added to the evidence that remote participation in democracy securely promotes voter turnout, if not results that Republicans like. The technology is ready: 40 states and the District of Columbia offer online voter registration. South Dakota establishes the identity and eligibility of drivers renewing their licenses online, and that driver’s license we can get online then becomes central to getting the voter registration card that Lee and Jim think we have to come to town to obtain in person.