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Noem Reduces Freedom of RV Voters

On Tuesday, Governor Kristi Noem signed Senate Bill 139, which makes it harder for new residents to exercise their right to vote in South Dakota. SB 139 may make participation in civic life a little harder for South Dakota’s tens of thousands of practically non-resident RV voters.

SB 139 changes the definition of residence for voting purposes in SDCL 12-1-4 from the current language:

For the purposes of this title, the term, residence, means the place in which a person has fixed his or her habitation and to which the person, whenever absent, intends to return.

…to this new language:

For the purposes of this title, the term, residence, means the place in which a person is domiciled as shown by an actual fixed permanent dwelling, establishment, or any other abode to which the person returns after a period of absence.

That language could serve to disenfranchise RVers registered to vote at our mailbox-rental facilities, as America’s Mailbox in Box Elder and My Home Address, Inc. in Emery are not “actual fixed permanent dwellings, establishments, or abodes” where people may reside. SB 139 also strikes the nebulous “intent” from the definition and requires that voters actually return to the dwellings they declare as their residences.

SB 139 thus provides Secretary of State Monae Johnson justification to remove thousands for voters registered at a handful residency-mill addresses from the voter rolls. Johnson promised during her 2022 campaign to remove RV voters from the rolls. If Johnson wants to distinguish herself from Governor Noem by actually following through on her campaign promise, she will query the voter database for addresses at which more than 50 voters are registered, identify the places that are mere mail-forwarding services and not actual abodes, and strike those ersatz voters from the rolls the moment SB 139 ersatzifies them on July 1.

SB 139 also adds a 30-day waiting period to voter registration for new residents. Right now, under SDCL 12-4-1, new residents can register to vote on the very day they move to South Dakota. (New voters still have to register at least 15 days before an election to vote in that election, but that’s a separate statute.) SB 139 now makes newcomers maintain residence in South Dakota for at least 30 days before they can register to vote. SB 139 also changes the voter registration form to add “I have maintained residence in South Dakota for at least thirty days prior to submitting this registration form” (or similar words to that effect) to the statements to which a registering voter attests under penalty of perjury.

Even if Secretary Johnson doesn’t go on the warpath against RV voters, that 30-day waiting period may discourage new RVers from joining South Dakota’s voter rolls. Picture it: when SB 139 kicks in on July 1, new RVers coming to town to sign up for residency will read the voter registration form and see that they are committing perjury if they sign that form before they’ve spent 30 days in South Dakota. Sensible RVers won’t risk perjury; they’ll put that form in their pocket and wait 30 days to register, if they dare register at all—SB 139 says I gotta “maintain residence” here for at least 30 days, but the open road is calling, and I’m only staying here at the Spearfish KOA for one night.

Governor Noem included SB 139 in the bucket of 12 election bills she signed Tuesday (with Secretary Monae Johnson and her frightful cabal of election riggers watching), stating that SB 139 and the other election bills “will further strengthen our fantastic [election] system and provide accountability for the future.” But SB 139 will remove thousands of RVers from that fantastic system and deny them the opportunity to hold Noem, Johnson, and other South Dakota elected officials accountable at election time.

Logan Manhart violated South Dakota election-requirements last year; now he works in the elections office and smirks as Governor Noem signs updates to South Dakota's voter residency requirement. Photo from Governor's Office, 2023.03.21.
Logan Manhart (far right) violated South Dakota election-residency requirements last year; now he works in the elections office and smirks as Governor Noem signs a law making it harder for folks like him who move here from Wisconsin to vote. Photo from Governor’s Office, 2023.03.21.

16 Comments

  1. Nick Nemec 2023-03-24

    I have always believed in giving credit where credit is due and this change in South Dakota voter law is long overdue.

  2. John 2023-03-24

    Disenfranchising voters is the name of this game.
    A voter serves out of state (military, government, well-driller in Alaska, et al) and uses her/his parents address as his state residence. Parents die or move out of state. Does the law demand the state resident to return to South Dakota for 30 days to establish a new address?
    The seven stooges in the photo would say so. It will be informative to learn how their law reduces federal matching funds when the RVers do not renew their South Dakota licenses, tags, and permits.

  3. bearcreekbat 2023-03-24

    So will this new requirement disenfranchise homeless people in South Dakota. Homeless folks don’t have “an actual fixed permanent dwelling, establishment, or any other abode to which the person returns after a period of absence.” KELO reports that

    Back in 2005, there were 1,029 homeless people in South Dakota. In 2022, there are 1,389.

    The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness gathers data from an annual one-day count each January. The statewide count totaled 1,108 in January 2022. When children are included the number grows to 1,389 in 2022. The number of homeless adult individuals in South Dakota on any given day in 2020 was 1,058. It was 617 in 2021.

    https://www.keloland.com/keloland-com-original/despite-attention-homeless-numbers-dont-change-much/#:~:text=Back%20in%202005%2C%20there%20were,totaled%201%2C108%20in%20January%202022.

  4. Richard Schriever 2023-03-24

    John, in the cases you cite, the address given is an actual abode, not a bag in a building that mail is thrown into and occasionally forwarded to some other site. In the case of the parents dying, does the kid inherit the addressed property? Take on the lease of the apartment? Anything “automatic”? If not, as with all changes of address, a reregistration would be required. Changes of address, for voting purposes within the state are different to “establishing (or maintaining) residency” IN THE STATE as a whole to begin with.

  5. Richard Schriever 2023-03-24

    bcb. It likely does disenfranchise a homeless person, or a person without a physical street address. If that is the case, see the loss in Federal court that ND suffered regarding a similar requirement in ND @ reservation residents.

  6. bearcreekbat 2023-03-24

    Richard, I too believe this attempt to exclude voters will be declared unlawful by the courts. As for the homeless, this reminds me of the so-called poll taxes, and the former rules that only property owners were permitted to vote. I supposed the next voting exclusion will have to be fertile women.

  7. Arlo Blundt 2023-03-24

    Well, this Logan Manhart fellow knew he was going to get his picture taken with the Governor on that day and chose not to wear a tie. Tells me a lot about him. No respect for tradition and a certain self centered, ego driven personality that has no place in a government position.

  8. Page James 2023-03-24

    I have always believed RV owners that register in SD would be older annd wealthier and therefore more likely to be Republicans. I haven’t seen the data to confirm my thesis but I’m sure it’s out there. Is she dumb enough to disenfranchise her supporters or am I wrong and are those zip codes that represent RV’ers more Democratic ?

  9. Linda 2023-03-25

    There are assumptions made that the fulltime RVers are wealthy. While this may be true for some, there are many more who are nomads, following seasonal or temporary jobs. Watch the movie Nomadland, which was partly filmed around Wall and Badlands National Park. It was nominated for 6 Oscars, and won three, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Frances McDormand), and Best Directing, in 2021.

    The people depicted in the movie are migrant workers, but not from south of the border. They are US citizens, who work seasonal, temporary jobs in various tourist destinations. They live in run down RVs, or vans, not big fancy rigs. They are called WorkCampers. Their vehicle is their home. There are soooo many of them. They can be found in Wall, in the summer, and in Deadwood, Keystone, Hill City. All their worldly possessions are in their vehicles, unless they can afford to keep up on the payment on their ministorage unit, with the hope that they may, someday, have a building in which to place them again.

    This population deserves the right to vote, just like anyone else. They are unseen by many, they clean toilets and wash dishes and do hotel laundry. But they are real.

  10. Hayley 2023-03-29

    If the Fulltime RVers that are currently Registered Voters in South Dakota (but at a PMB address) are removed from the voter rolls, does that prevent them from voting in National Elections as well?

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-03-30

    Hayley, yes, if Secretary Johnson follows SB 139 when it is enacted on July 1 and purges the rolls of RV voters, then those voters would be unable to vote in any election until they either live in South Dakota for 30 days and re-register or find another state that will recognize their itinerant residency and allow them to register. You can’t vote if you’re not registered.

  12. Hayley 2023-03-30

    That’s frustrating. I get the State not wanting county/local elections skewed by RV Voters. But we pay vehicle registrations, we pay our Excise taxes to the County/State. Why can’t we at least vote in National Elections.

  13. Doug Beaton 2023-07-04

    Hello. I have been one of those Full Time RVers that have been a resident of South Dakota with a mailing service in Sioux Falls, SD for many years. I have voted for Governor Noem when she ran for the US Congress and I voted again for her when she ran for Governor. I do not understand the reason why this bill SD139 ever got purposed in the first place. I do believe the legislative people that wrote this bill may have shot themselves in the foot. I myself am going to make it known that this bill SD139 has become law and will discourage people that are full time RVers from being SD residents. The SD stands to lose several jobs at the various mail services and the revenue from driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, vehicle insurance and tourism just name a few areas. Maybe some people are concerned with the political attitude of the state changing if things were left the same. I really don’t think that a lot of RVers are going to be willing to spend 30 days in SD to meet the voting requirement. I know I’m not willing to spend 30 days to meet the voting requirement. I’m going to look into becoming a Texas resident. SD is not full time rv friendly any more and not the only show in town. Hopefully someone will test this SD 139 in the courts.

  14. P. Aitch 2023-07-04

    Texas is perfect for you. Low taxes and low amenities. You can call yourself a Libertarian and sponge off the Latino workforce. Go crazy and keep Beaton it on down the line. 🎶😊

  15. cibvet 2023-07-05

    The SD politicians are a product bought and paid for by the wealthy. That will not change. The rvers pay the same taxes for services ( gas tax, food tax, property tax in rental fees) as residents of SD and apparently some vote the same foolish ways as SD residents so why not take their money. What am I missing?? Is it jealousy because they pull up and leave and we don’t or won’t or can’t??? It seems to me that we should fleece them just like the tourists and bikers and then move them along.

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