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HB 1165 Includes Ban on Ballot Drop Boxes; HB 1217 Ends No-Excuse Early Voting

One of two bills seeking to ban absentee ballot drop boxes passed its first committee vote yesterday.

House Bill 1165 tucks its drop box ban at the bottom of an otherwise debatably harmless bill revising absentee voting provisions. Prime sponsor Representative Kirk Chaffee (R-29/Whitewood) replaces a lot of shalls with musts, gender-neutralizes an offending masculine pronoun (ah, the Republicans are so woke this Session), and updates some references to federal law.

In substantive changes, HB 1165 formally prohibits mailing absentee ballots out after the Monday right before the election (Chaffee originally proposed a mail deadline of Thursday before the election, but House State Affairs eased that deadline ahead). HB 1165 specifies that certain violations of absentee voting laws can draw Class 2 misdemeanor charges (30 days in jail, $500 fine max).

HB 1165 expands the grounds on which county auditors and election boards may review and reject absentee ballots from proof that the voter has died to include proof that the voter has been convicted of a felony or declared mentally incompetent. Chaffee also wanted to allow auditors and election boards to boot absentee ballots from voters who have registered in other states, but House State Affairs struck that provision. Perhaps the committee got word that the RV voter lobby was uneasy about that potential intrusion on their encampment in South Dakota’s voter and vehicle registration rolls.

HB 1165 actually provides a little honest help for election integrity by tightening up the rules for folks watching the count of absentee ballots. Current law (SDCL 12-19-44) says, “The room occupied by the absentee ballot counting board shall be open to any person for the purpose of observing the counting process.” “Any person” means any person, and any number of persons. HB 1165 Section 16 specifies that the sorting, validating, and counting of absentee ballots “must be open to poll watchers”. “Poll watchers” are not any old person but recognized creatures of statute. The State Board of Elections limits the number of poll watchers—one per candidate, one per national convention delegate slate, and one per side of each ballot question in primaries; one per party, one per independent candidate, one per slate of Presidential electors, and one per side of each ballot question in generals. HB 1165 specifies that poll watchers “shall keep” (shall? after taking such pains to replace all those existing shalls with musts, Chaffee deploys a new shall? Come on, Kirk, tighten up!) “a reasonable distance from ballots and identification information to protect the privacy of absentee voters.” And for any nefarious poll watchers who think they’ll just sneak some pictures of absentee ballot names and addresses with their phone zoom lenses, Section 16 prohibits creating any “record associating an individual voter with a ballot”. So yay for a Republican finding an honest way to protect voter privacy without making it harder to cast a vote.

HB 1165 does crack down on get-out-the-vote activists, Sections 18 and 19 boost the penalty for paying people to assist voters by the number of voters assisted from a Class 2 to a Class 1 misdemeanor (one year in jail, $2,000 fine max). Section 20 prohibits anyone other than the person in charge of the election or that chief’s appointed designee from prefilling voters’ names and addresses on absentee ballot applications. The person requesting the ballot has to fill in that information, unless that person is blind, disabled, or unable to read or write.

Chaffee waits until Section 21, the penultimate section of HB 1165, to ban drop boxes. Instead of allowing county auditors to establish secure and convenient locations around town and outdoors where voters concerned about catching coronavirus or being late for work may submit their ballots, HB 1165 says the only ways absentee voters may submit their ballots are by delivering their ballots in person to the office of the election chief, giving their ballots to an authorized ballot messenger to deliver in person, or mailing their ballots.

Wait: Rep. Chaffee thinks a ballot drop box established by our own county auditor isn’t secure but a plastic mail box in front of a house is? There is no evidence that the ballot drop boxes used in the 2020 election were insecure or fostered voter fraud. All that makes a mail box more secure than a ballot drop box is federal law that can put mail thieves in prison for up to five years. Rather than banning absentee drop boxes and thus making it harder for people to vote, why not simply copy federal law and subject people who try to steal absentee ballots from drop boxes to the same penalty? Under SDCL 12-26-23, stealing ballots in South Dakota is only a Class 6 felony, drawing a maximum of two years in prison and a $4,000 fine.

Rep. Chaffee has mixed some reasonable changes with the ballot dropbox paranoia of his party. The harder right whackadoodles of his caucus have filed a shorter, more purely rotten bill focused on making absentee voting harder. Chaffee’s neighbor just across the Meade/Lawrence county line, Representative Scott Odenbach (R-31/Spearfish) has proposed House Bill 1217, which does three bad things:

  1. HB 1217 bans absentee ballot drop boxes, similarly to HB 1165.
  2. HB 1217 shortens the absentee voting period for everyone in state from 46 days to 30 days. Overseas voters would still get 46 days, as required by federal law.
  3. HB 1217 ends no-excuse early voting. South Dakota currently is one of 27 states where voters need not give a reason to vote early or absentee. Another eight states now just mail ballots to everyone. HB 1217 would only allow voters to cast an absentee ballot if they will be outside of their home county on election day, if they are disabled or sick, if they are observing a religious holiday, if they are in resident attendance at a school, if their work prevents them from getting to the polls, if they are absent due to military service, or if they live overseas.

Odenbach’s HB 1217 is a far more egregious attack than HB 1165 on all South Dakotans’ ability to participate in elections. But both bills express the typical apartheidist Republican desire to make it harder to vote, reduce the number of people voting, and undermine faith in democracy as Republicans try to cling to power even as their party base slides further into self-accelerated minority. (Remember: lower voter participation does not automatically produce more Republican election wins, but it does produce a more disengaged electorate that delegitimizes government and makes it easier to sow distrust of elections and support for non-democratic efforts to seize power.)

HB 1165 passed House State Affairs Friday on a partisan 11-2 vote. HB 1217 awaits a hearing before House State Affairs.


  1. Donald Pay 2023-02-04 09:49

    Drop boxes: Remember that Trump flunky who was installed as the head of the US Postal Service? He apparently had a company that manufactured drop boxes. These weren’t just the normal drop boxes but GREAT BIG DROP BOXES. Apparently the size was supposed to impress us. This company sold some of these drop boxes to the postal service. So, two of these were installed near our neighborhood post office. The problem is they are flimsy. They can be easily cut into and the mail stolen. One has been cut into and put out of commission after just a year of use. The other is still OK, I guess. They reinstalled an “old school” post office mailbox, and most people use that one, until it fills up and you can’t stuff any more mail into it.

    The voting drop boxes that were installed around Madison, WI, are even more heavy duty and secure than the “old school” postal boxes. Not only are they as solid as a Bradley tank, they are located near fire houses or police precinct offices and guarded by 24-hour security cameras, something that most of our postal boxes around town don’t have. So, the question is, would I rather drop my ballot at the flimsy post office box, or the Bradley tank voting drop box? The answer is the voting drop box. But, of course, Wisconsin Republicans blame the drop boxes for Trump’s loss in our state, so they had to go.

    Well, our voting drop boxes haven’t gone anywhere, but, due to a court finding, they can’t be used. Wisconsin has a vote coming up for a Supreme Court justice. If the citizens vote for the progressive candidate, it is likely we will get a court finding that we can use the voting drop boxes again.

  2. Edwin Arndt 2023-02-04 10:13

    I know that there is a vast difference between “may” and “shall”. But can someone
    explain the difference between “shall” and “must”. I have to plead ignorance.

  3. Richard Schriever 2023-02-04 10:28

    As a voter who feels it is my patriotic duty to participate in every election for which I am eligible and being employed in a profession which requires me to almost always be absent from my voting precinct between April and November, I am completely reliant on absentee balloting. In addition, I am only able to physically pick up my mail during the few days I might be at home during that period (Memorial Day weekend, July 4, and Labor Day weekend). Any ballot delivered to me after those 3 Holidays would result in me not being able to vote absentee. As to any ballot for a special election that might occur during my Winter stints ex-US, fugetaboudit. They would never reach me and get returned, even in a 46-day window, unless sent via State Dept. courier, not the postal system (hah, right) of my foreign residency country.

    What we need is on-line voting capability.

  4. All Mammal 2023-02-04 10:33

    These bills are so very unAmerican. What they are is NOTHING IN COMPARISON TO REAL ISH IN OUR STATE. WHAT ARE YOU SLAGS DOING ABOUT THE ZEBRA MUSSELS? WE ARE ON TRACK WITH OUR SECOND RCPD SHOOTING THIS YEAR. boy, I hate using all caps. Lameass sonsa….five more dead every week still from Covid19. Mass killers. I could call these double bellybutton having ginzles names all day but I have to write a letter to the Honorable Judge to get someone leniency at sentencing. For what? More buncha bs. Lucky me.

  5. e platypus onion 2023-02-04 11:35

    Edwin Arndt,

    Explains the difference between shall and must as legal terms.

  6. Edwin Arndt 2023-02-04 12:53

    Thank you. I had no idea the legal definitions had changed.

  7. buckobear 2023-02-04 13:27

    Shorter version: Our legislature hates us.

  8. grudznick 2023-02-04 14:38

    Mr. Arndt, the Council of Research for the Legislatures is constantly sneaking changes into the form of law bills. They are manipulating the legislatures secretly and quietly from the shadows. Only Mr. Schoenbeck understands just how much.

  9. P. Aitch 2023-02-04 15:17

    A group of MAGA’s that garnered 70% of the vote is still “posing the victim”? Not much going on up there, huh? #HardyHarHar

  10. Loren 2023-02-04 17:44

    This is what occupies their time in Pierre? I guess the GOP has Trump-rot across the entire nation!

  11. Mark Anderson 2023-02-04 21:50

    They are just postponing the off with their heads day a few more years AND making it inevitable.

  12. sx123 2023-02-04 22:41

    I think all ballots should be mail in. Anyone here work poll booths before? A) it’s a waste of 14 hrs of your time and B) it’s just plain brutal.

    Anyone that hates on poll workers can kiss my @ss. So, let’s just stop the hassle and have everyone mail in votes.

    Of course, you would still need to prove yourself to actually get a mail in ballot. Ya can’t just download one from the internet

  13. All Mammal 2023-02-04 23:59

    Sx123- while they kiss your fanny, I’ll kick theirsÜ Poll workers are heroes. And if we can’t get em to get on board with the mail-ins, why not vote from our phones? We can do federal taxes with them. I know, the voter fraud spazzes will freak out. But I bet my brother’s next five birthdays they all bank and buy and maybe even unlock their front doors with their devices. Secure enough for me. It would make it a whole lot easier on the auditors, SOS, and we could exploit democracy way more often by conveniently voting on everything ourselves. Heck, then we could get rid of our legislature completely, there’d be no need for phony representatives. Miracles have to happen. It can’t always be mucked.

  14. grudznick 2023-02-05 09:05

    This morning at the Conservatives with Common Sense breakfasting we shall debate the old debates of the value of early voting. Should some people be able to jump the gun before all the information is out there or should everyone have to show up in the appointed day in the appointed spot and mark down your vote in ink?

  15. Richard Schriever 2023-02-05 09:32

    sx123 – while my other (so-called 3rd world) country of residence does have a horrible postal system, they also do have a wonderful on-line voting system – especially convenient for voters from their nation living overseas. And no, you don’t “just download” a ballot. You actually do your voting on an online form using your NATIONAL ID CARD – the cedula (known in the US as a passport) – one ID # = one vote. The US should issue every citizen a national ID (passport) at birth, do away with all the bureaucratic “voter registration” nonsense, which was and is the voter suppression law of history. This is the 21st century for God’s sake. Most phones have a finger-print reader in them. Iris scans are even better to fingerprints. How’s a dead person gonna vote if the iris scan says they’ve been processed and buried by a licensed registered mortician? Good grief, this nation is not only full of MAGAts, but luddites as well.

  16. Donald Pay 2023-02-05 10:03

    Grudz, that is a good debate to have. I’ve debated myself about that. First, I took the position that people should vote on election day, period, no excuses. There is something about going to the polls on election day that uplifts the idea of participatory democracy, particularly when there are ballot measures to vote on. My concern about early voting was that it was driven mainly by top-of-the ticket races, and the dog catcher races and ballot measure advertising didn’t really kick in until a couple weeks before election day. I never voted early or absentee until the pandemic hit. There was no way I was going to get the Trump virus if I could vote against Trump through the mail. And I found it just as patriotic to put my ballot in a drop box a couple weeks early. And so that’s how I vote now. Others might feel better going to the polls. Great for them, as long as they vote. I think it’s great no matter how you vote, or for whom you vote. Just vote.

    You Republicans like to pretend that government should be run like a business. At least I’ve heard that repeatedly from Republican candidates over the years, and I do agree with that philosophy. If Republicans really want a more business-like election process, they would welcome a more customer-friendly way to cast a ballot. You see FedEx stores and drop boxes all over. Businesses have extended business hours, not the 9-5 hours that used to be the rule in our childhood. I say let the marketplace decide when people can cast a ballot, not a Grudz-mandated time and place.

    I used to be a ticket-splitter, though I leaned heavily toward the Democrats. It sometimes took me until election day to decide who to vote for. Now, I vote straight Democrat. I don’t need to spend a lot of time figuring it out. And I do my homework on the undercard a little earlier these days, not wait to do it the night before it is due, which was a bad habit I got in high school.

  17. 96Tears 2023-02-05 10:29

    Lest we forget. Where’s the fire?

    The Monae Johnson wing of the SDGOP is full of solutions for which there are no problems. The last Democrat who served as Secretary of State was Lorna Buntrock Herseth. Since she left office, Republicans have had an iron fist control of state elections for 45 years. Since 1978, it’s been a Republican show in elections in South Dakota. They’ve controlled the governor’s office and the state legislature for 45 years. If there is any problem with elections, it has happened on their watch.

    So, why aren’t they taking responsibility for the crisis? Because it does not exist. Not a shred of proof.

    Why are South Dakotans putting up with this stupidity?

  18. Jake Kammerer 2023-02-05 14:59

    96 Tears-your question is one for the ages! Why? Why? Why?!!!!!! The GOP in SD has so immersed the citizens of SD in B.S. we are or should be the most fertile minds in the nation. Yet, we seem as a state to take anything these GOP (2 Santa Claus party) spout thru media that are used to supporting them and decrying any progressive Democratic options. The ‘2 Santa Claus’ thing-when a Republican is in the White House and congress too, every crisis, promised tax cut and need is fulfilled with borrowed money, but when the Democrats are in control they weep and wail about the deficit spending. While Trump was in office (4 yrs) he ran up the debt nearly 8 trillion $$$, with his billionaire personal and corporate tax cut and spending (building a wall and bungled pandemic $$$), Bush 11 added several billion with his ‘credit card war’. Debt as a % of GDP was low under Nixon, but raised under every president since then except Carter and Clinton. (Remember Clinton’ balanced budget?) Reagan, the GOP’s “go to hero President” cut taxes and greatly increased military spending-raising the debt quite a bit, plus every GOP administration has cut the budget of the IRS to the point that they are 80% ineffective at auditing billionaires and corporations (Exxon’s profits this year =10 billion more than last year as we all paid high gas prices… The GOP fails to understand that every $$$ spent is one that has to be taken from the people first. So if nobody is auditing-no one will pay, right?

    I’m all in and for spending where it counts most: people. Biden has it right on by concentrating on the lower and middle class economy ( “bottom up-middle out”) and his fir 2 years prove it. 417,000 new jobs last month. Record job growth, inflation easing and economy EXPANDING at the same time!!!! This is how to run a country in my opinion!

  19. Arlo Blundt 2023-02-05 15:14

    If we are all to show up at the polls and vote in person on election day, then Election Day must be a Federal and State Holiday. Shut down the country except for voting. If we are not going to do that, then Early voting, drop boxes, and other contrivances to increase voter participation are essential.

  20. Frank Kloucek 2023-02-06 01:35

    HB 1217 is going backwards concerning free and fair early voting. Voting is a right that should be made easier not harder by our Legislature. Allowing citizens to vote early absentee has so many advantages. Why would anyone want to make it harder to vote early? I do not believe voter suppression would be a reason, would it?

  21. Mark Anderson 2023-02-06 18:13

    Jake Kammerer, the pubs are always favored on the economy but if you go back to WW2 there has been double the job growth under a Democratic President. It’s the same with Biden. Don’t bother telling facts to a Republican, they know better. It’s a conundrum.

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