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.