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Election Denial in South Dakota

  • 0 Election Deniers currently hold statewide office with election oversight power.

  • 1 Election Denier has held, or run for, statewide office since 2020.

The landscape in South Dakota

After the 2020 election, support grew in many statehouses for so-called forensic audits. It’s a vague term that has no recognized meaning among election experts. It’s also not the same thing as a professional audit – a common, often mandatory, safeguard used to verify election results across the country.

In South Dakota, a bill introduced in 2022 would have required the state to conduct “a forensic audit of ballots, voting equipment, and voter verification processes” if the margin for South Dakota’s presidential election was less than 10 percentage points. The bill passed the Republican-controlled House, even though Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has boasted about South Dakota’s election security. It was not enacted.

South Dakota is also among the states that have made it harder for election officials to do their jobs by banning donations that support election funding. And Election Denier beliefs persist in the state. One poll in 2023 found that 42% of people in South Dakota wrongly believe President Biden stole the 2020 election.

Gov. Kristi Noem campaigned for Arizona’s Kari Lake, one of the country’s most vocal Election Deniers, in 2022. And Secretary of State Monae Johnson has dodged questions about whether the 2020 election was stolen. As one report pointed out, some of her ideas for South Dakota align with those of Election Deniers. Those include full hand counts of ballots, which are prone to errors and delays.

0 Election Deniers hold statewide Office right now.

Elections are run by the states. In South Dakota, the Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State are the state officials responsible for overseeing elections. It’s up to them to make sure the will of the people is always respected.

Read more about The Roles of Our Elected Officials in Elections

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How South Dakota compares

Every state runs its own elections, with its own laws and processes. Check out how South Dakota compares with other states in its region when it comes to Election Deniers holding state election administration jobs.

Voter turnout over time

Voters are always the backstop against election denial, whether Election Deniers are already in office or vying for power. It’s important to turn out for every election in your state—and to vote in every race on your ballot. Downballot races, like contests for Attorney General and Secretary of State, have historically drawn fewer voters, even though the positions are critical to keeping elections free, fair, and secure. Here’s a look at voter participation in South Dakota elections over time. Notice that in years with several important positions up for election, some voters choose not to vote in every race.

Voter Participation in South Dakota Since 2016

Attorney General
Secretary of State
  1. 2016 Presidential

    • President had a 59% voter turnout rate

    • Senator had a 59% voter turnout rate

  2. 2018 Midterm

    • Governor had a 53% voter turnout rate

    • Attorney General had a 51% voter turnout rate

    • Secretary of State had a 51% voter turnout rate

  3. 2020 Presidential

    • President had a 66% voter turnout rate

    • Senator had a 65% voter turnout rate

Voter turnout

Data on the number of votes cast in each race are from state elections depositories, supplemented with data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), House Election Statistics, and The Book of States. Rates are calculated using the Census’s Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) estimates. Rates will be updated when the Census releases new CVAP data for 2022.

Beyond the ballot box

Each year, state legislators introduce thousands of bills related to elections. And in the past few years, we’ve identified a concerning trend. Across the country, state legislatures are considering bills that would make it easier for partisan actors to manipulate an election, and maybe even overturn the will of the people. We’re tracking these bills along with our partners in an ongoing series of reports called “A Democracy Crisis in the Making.” In 2023 alone, through early May, we tracked 185 bills introduced in 38 state legislatures that would politicize, criminalize, or interfere with elections. 

The anti-democracy playbook is simple: change the rules and change the referees, in order to change the results. These bills go hand-in-hand with the Election Denier movement: They’re about taking power away from voters and making it harder for trusted election officials to do their jobs.

Read the full report

Legislative Interference in South Dakota by Category

As of May 3, 2023, 6 bills had been introduced or were under consideration in South Dakota. 1 has been enacted or adopted and none have been vetoed after passing.

These bills show that the threat to elections in South Dakota, and all across the country, goes well beyond the ballot box.

  • Imposing disproportionate criminal or other penalties.
    These bills would create or expand penalties for election officials in the ordinary execution of their jobs, including criminalizing inadvertent mistakes.
  • Creating unworkable burdens in election administration.
    These bills would interfere with the basic procedures of election administration, increasing the risk of chaos and delay and enabling misleading claims of irregularity.
  • Seizing power over election responsibilities.
    These bills would shift election administration responsibilities away from professional, nonpartisan officials and toward partisan actors in the legislature.
  • Usurping control over election results.
    These bills would give legislators or other state officials direct control over election outcomes.
  • Requiring partisan or unprofessional election “audits” or reviews.
    These bills would establish vague post-election review schemes without the professional standards of traditional audits.

One of these bills was enacted or adopted. That bill fell into the categories of creating unworkable burdens in election administration and imposing disproportionate criminal or other penalties.