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November Election Conversation with South Dakota’s Secretary of State

I chair the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In that role, we’ve worked extensively on election security. It’s well documented that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election by using a misinformation campaign on social media and they attempted to hack into at least 21 of our state election systems. Fortunately, Russia was not successful in changing the 2016 outcome. The 2018 midterm elections were free from outside interference—that was no accident. The 2018 election was protected due to changes in our public policy allowing the U.S. to respond with offensive and defensive cyber capabilities outside of a declared war zone.


As I’ve traveled around South Dakota during our in-state work period, I’ve received countless questions about the election this November. This time, the questions were not concerned about election interference from a foreign source. Instead, people are wondering how our new pandemic lifestyles will impact the election; specifically election security.  So, I decided to go directly to the source and ask your questions to the official in charge of running our state’s elections: Secretary of State Steve Barnett.


Mike Rounds [MR]: Should we be concerned about mail-in ballots?


Secretary of State Steve Barnett [SB]: South Dakota’s election processes provide safeguards to ensure fair and honest elections. Since 1913, South Dakota has offered our residents the opportunity to vote absentee. Over the past century, we’ve worked hard to perfect this process. Today, voters submit an absentee application form, which must be notarized or accompanied by a photo ID, to their local county auditor and receive their ballot in the mail. After a ballot is completed and returned, the signature on the request form and the signature on the ballot envelope are cross-checked to ensure validity. South Dakota is not the reason that the voting process in this election is making national news, as our processes have long been in place and provide security measures to ensure the integrity of our elections.


MR: Will the post office (USPS) be able to process the increase in election mail?


SB: I have confidence in the ability of the United States Postal Service to process the projected increase in election mail.  According to the USPS, they are anticipating election mail to account for less than 2% of their daily mail volume from mid-September to Election Day.  My office has been working closely with USPS officials in the state and will continue to do so. 

To account for mail processing and delivery times, we encourage voters to request their absentee ballot as soon as they’re able and return the ballot to their county auditor with sufficient time allowed for delivery.  South Dakota’s absentee voting period begins 46 days prior to the election on September 18th and voters are able to request their absentee ballot right now.


MR: How does a voter request an absentee ballot?


SB: The first step is ensuring that you are registered to vote and that your information is up to date.  To verify this information, you may contact your local county auditor or search the Voter Information Portal (VIP) on our website at You may download the absentee ballot application form from our website or contact your county auditor to request an application.  Upon completing the application, the form must be submitted to your county auditor. If you cannot recall if you already requested an absentee ballot for the general election, you may contact your county auditor or check the VIP page on our website. The VIP page will also provide your polling location information if you choose to vote in person. A couple of important dates to remember for the upcoming election are:


September 18 – Absentee voting begins

October 19 – Last day to register to vote

November 3 – Election Day!


MR: What message do you have for South Dakota voters going into the November election?


SB: South Dakotans should have confidence in the integrity of our election systems. The goal of all election officials in South Dakota is to ensure every South Dakotan has access to exercise their right to vote in fair and honest elections. Citizens exercising their right to vote is the foundation of our democracy and I encourage everyone to participate.