SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota secretary of state’s office said Friday that it will send absentee applications to every registered voter to encourage people to mail in their ballots rather than going to the polls for the June 2 primary, just weeks before coronavirus infections are expected to peak in the state.
It will be the first time the state has made such a move, according to Kea Warne, the director of elections with the secretary of state. Polling locations will still be open, she said, but the timing of the election has raised concerns that people who vote in-person could spread the coronavirus.
Gov. Kristi Noem has projected that COVID-19 cases will peak in South Dakota in mid-June.
The conservative blog Dakota War College on Thursday released a leaked draft of a press release from the secretary of state announcing the move.
Normally, voters must request an absentee ballot application from their county election official. To get a an absentee ballot, voters must still complete the application and send it back to their county election official, along with a copy of their photo ID.
State. Rep. Spencer Gosch, a Glenham Republican, said he saw the election that had unfolded in Wisconsin with the governor and state Supreme Court going back and forth on delaying the election, but thought that encouraging people to vote absentee could help South Dakota avoid a similar scenario.
Bob Litz, the Minnehaha County auditor, said holding an election a couple weeks before the governor has predicted infections to peak was a “gap in logic,” but he hoped an increase in absentee voting would keep polling locations sparse come Election Day. Minnehaha County has been the hardest hit by the virus, with over half of confirmed cases in the state.
Litz plans on having all 71 polling locations open, although many of his usual poll workers have not committed to working that day. He’s acquired plastic shields and sanitation kits to protect poll workers and noted that many are at higher risk for complications from the virus.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Litz said, “80% of my workers are over 60 years old.”
He also expects he will need more workers than usual because several local races have been pushed back to that date. Voters will be filling out two ballots, requiring four or five poll workers at every location.
The Legislature passed an emergency bill in March to push local elections back to the primary. Lawmakers struck a proposal from the governor that would have allowed her to move the primary if necessary. That means a special legislative session would need to be called if lawmakers or the governor want to change the election date.
House Speaker Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, said he did not think that would be necessary. He was fine with the potential increase in absentee ballots, but said, “I just don’t want to see us doing something that compromises the integrity of the vote.”
Leaders of both state parties said they thought encouraging absentee voting was a good idea.