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Gov. Noem Responds to Letter from SD Lawmakers

Governor Noem responded to a request from approximately one-third of South Dakota's state lawmakers Monday, August 29, 2022. As previously reported by The Dakota Leader, a bicameral call-to-action was drafted by the South Dakota Freedom Caucus, requesting that Gov. Noem, and acting Attorney General Mark Vargo intervene on behalf of South Dakota citizens, whose records' requests have been denied.

Ahead of the 2020 election, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) owned by Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg, donated $400 million dollars to Secretaries of State for ballot drop-boxes. The ballot drop-boxes were used in many states for the first-time, due to cited concerns over the possible transmission of COVID-19 during in-person voting. In exchange for allowing the drop boxes, counties were required to keep and maintain video surveillance of the drop-box sites for the twenty-two months following federal elections.

Last session, the South Dakota legislature made it illegal for the Secretary of State to take third party money, dubbed "Zuck Bucks," for election assistance. While many in the state legislature say it's a step in the right direction, many believe it doesn't go far enough to stop the use of drop-box sites.

Republicans, and some democrats contend that the ballot drop-boxes, and cash infusion by a third party, created an environment for ballot harvesting, and fraud. A concern further promulgated after the release of the documentary "2000 Mules," which allegedly shows illegal activity at drop-box sites. The documentary filmmakers obtained the video surveillance of drop-box sites from County Auditors who followed the law. However, whether or not these drop-boxes were actually recorded by South Dakota counties is one of the motivating factors for public records requests.



Citizens of the state of South Dakota have been working toward transparency for over a year, in an attempt to uncover these videos, and create a post-election audit. According to federal law, September 2, 2022 marks the twenty-two month sunset date, where materials like the video surveillance of these drop-box sites, and the vote tabulation information can be destroyed.

Citizens and lawmakers alike, have expressed concerns that the counties might not have recorded the drop-box sites as required, after public records requests were all denied. After the first round of public records requests, County Auditors took additional measures like hiring outside legal counsel to prevent disclosure.

Gov. Noem in her response to The Freedom Caucus letter, has stated that her team is actively researching potential legislation for the upcoming legislative session, to "further guarantee free and fair election in South Dakota."

Chair of the South Dakota Freedom Caucus, Representative Aaron Aylward (R-Harrisburg) tells The Dakota Leader,

“I’m thankful for the letter that the Governor sent, yesterday, as it shows that this is an issue important to her. Myself, and many others, look forward to working with her on election law. However, the goal of the 24 legislators who signed the letter to the Governor and the AG, was to put pressure on the counties to release the publicly held information before it gets destroyed. I pray that more auditors decide to do the right thing before the end of the week!”

For those who have worked hard towards transparency, like Jessica Pollema of SD Canvassing, the response from Gov. Noem was a disappointment. Pollema tells TDL, "While Gov. Noem’s comments sound nice, she did not address the contents of the letter such as the preservation of records, ongoing investigations, and the release of the public records. Future legislation does not address the immediate need for intervention on these issues."

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--Breeauna Sagdal- Editor and Health Policy Journalist for The Dakota Leader

Post Date: 2022-08-30 10:19:50Last Update: 2022-08-30 14:04:15


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