The Texas-based Escapees RV Club, which offers itinerant Americans mailbox services and legal domicile to qualify to vote in Texas, Florida, and South Dakota, is finding that Secretary of State Monae Johnson isn’t very good at reading the law. When they asked South Dakota’s new Secretary of State to explain the soon-to-be law Senate Bill 139 that will make it harder for our RV residents to vote, Secretary Johnson started making stuff up:
As stated previously, we reached out to the South Dakota Secretary of State office several times. The first time we were verbally told that the new 30-day law would require a new resident to be in the state for at least 30-days in a calendar year, but they did not have answers to our other questions and requested that we send an email so that the entire elections team could work on them. Late yesterday evening, (April 12), we received the following answers from Director Rachel Soulek, of the Division of Elections Office of the Secretary of State, to our written questions. Please note that they redacted the calendar year statement they initially made in our phone call. Unfortunately, the answers they provided do not give us any concrete decisions about how all of this will be interpreted in the end.
- Q: We understand that you are working on additional information regarding the new law which will require new residents to maintain a residence within the state for at least thirty days prior to submitting a registration form. It is unclear if that is within a calendar year. Will residents swear or legally affirm the thirty days, or will additional proof be required?
- A: SB 139 does not say calendar year or any other time frame in which the 30 days is counted. Not having a definitive start and end date in which to determine if the 30 day requirement is met is problematic and may need a court to determine the meaning of the statute. SB 139 also gives no guidance as to the level of proof that will be needed in order to meet the 30 day requirement. Neither does it give the SOS office nor the State Board of Elections the ability to promulgate rules interpreting or implementing the statute.
- Q: As a fulltime RVer who has no other residence in SD, or in any other state in the United States, or elsewhere, be allowed to use a federally licensed CMRA (Commercial Mail Receiving Agent) on their voter registration form? Please understand that this address is the one used for all legal documents including a driver license, insurance, registering vehicles, etc. This is also the address used to establish a legal domicile in South Dakota. It is used for doctors, lawyers, trusts, wills, and other critical mail.
- A: This question is also not answered in the bill. Please remember that county auditors are the ones who determine voter eligibility, SDCL 12-4-5.3 and the referred to language may very well require a court’s interpretation.
- Q: Section 1 (12-4-4) states: “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.” Surely South Dakota does not intend to disenfranchise citizens of their state and deny them their Constitutional right to vote simply because they don’t own a typical “abode.” It is our hope, and our contention, that the words “domiciled” and “establishment” were purposeful and intentionally used to allow legally domiciled fulltime RVers to use their legal address for voting.
- A: A person’s Constitutional right to vote is very important to Secretary Johnson and she will do all that she can do to protect that right. The SOS office expects that no one presently registered to vote will lose that right to vote with the passage of SB 139.
Our next step will be to reach out to the Pennington County, South Dakota auditor’s office for further information. We will keep the Escapees SD mail service members posted as we learn more [Escapees RV Club, Advocacy Update, 2023.04.13].
Wow—first Secretary Johnson fabricates a “calendar year” requirement for a law that says nothing about calendar year. Senate Bill 139, which takes effect July 1, says (in Section 3, to be written into SDCL 12-4-1) that…
Every person who maintains residence, as provided in § 12-1-4, within the state for at least thirty days prior to submitting the registration form, and who has the qualifications of a voter prescribed by § 12-3-1 or 12-3-1.1, or who will have such qualifications at the next ensuing municipal, primary, general, or school district election, is entitled to be registered as a voter in the election precinct in which the person maintains residence [2023 SB 139, Section 3, signed by Governor 2023.03.08].
Thirty days prior to submitting the form—that line doesn’t say anything about a calendar year. Nor does it say anything about the starting date or ending date that the SOS is now babbling about. The law as amended by SB 139 just says that if you reside in South Dakota and if you have maintained that residence for at least 30 days, you can register to vote.
Then Secretary Johnson manufactures a grandfather clause out of SB 139. “The SOS office expects that no one presently registered to vote will lose that right to vote with the passage of SB 139.” Whence cometh that expectation? Read the second bolded part of the excerpt above: to be entitled to be on the voter rolls, you have to meet the residency qualifications elsewhere modified by SB 139. Section 2 of SB 139 rewrites SDCL 12-3-1 to read as follows:
Every person who, at the time of an election, maintains residence in this state, will be eighteen years of age or older on or before the next election, is not otherwise disqualified, and complies with the law regarding the registration of voters pursuant to chapter 12-4, may vote at any election in this state [2023 SB 139, Section 2].
SB 139 doesn’t just require 30 days of residence to register to vote. SB 139 says that if you don’t maintain residence in South Dakota—i.e., if you don’t have “an actual fixed permanent dwelling, establishment, or any other abode” in this state—you cannot vote in South Dakota. To suggest that SB 139 does not apply to people who register to vote before SB 139 takes effect is as ridiculous as saying that none of South Dakota’s current voter registration requirements apply to people who registered to vote one or ten of fifty years ago.
SB 139 clarifies that RVers who only have a South Dakota mailing address through a mail-forwarding service but do not have a permanent place in South Dakota to hang their hat are not eligible to vote in South Dakota. SB 139 contains no grandfather clause allowing RVers who have already purchased a mailbox and registered to vote to continue doing so. SB 139 disqualifies all of those existing non-physically-permanently-resident RV voters as well as any new RV mailbox seekers who might try to register to vote here on July 1 and afterward. Come July 1, any county auditor may strike from the voter rolls any current voter who does not meet the residency requirements of SB 139 as well as rejecting applications from new voters who do not satisfy those requirements.
And don’t forget: Monae Johnson promised Republican convention delegates that she would do just that:
Residency requirements should be tightened so that non-South Dakotans cannot register to vote using campgrounds, mail forwarding services or businesses like Walmart as their residential addresses [Monae Johnson, letter to SDGOP convention delegates, quoted in Pat Powers, “SOS Candidate Monae Johnson Tells Delegates That If Elected, Her Intent Is to Disenfranchise a Group of Voters,” South Dakota War College, 2022.06.16].
So Secretary Johnson isn’t just making stuff up about Senate Bill 139; she’s making stuff up about her own political intentions.
Call your lawyers, RVers: contrary to her office’s baloney, Senate Bill 139 gives Secretary Johnson the tool she needs to carry out her campaign promise to take away your right to vote in South Dakota.
Reminder to My RV Readers: You still have until June 26 to organize a referendum petition drive, circulate petitions, and submit 17,509 registered voter signatures to Secretary Johnson’s office to freeze SB 139 and put it to a statewide vote in 2024.