South Dakota voters can start casting absentee ballots Sept. 18 (Friday), launching the November general election amidst a pandemic.

If the June primary offered any indication, the November election will see a high number of absentee voters mainly because of COVID-19 concerns. South Dakotans can track their ballots through the Voter Information Portal (VIP) on Secretary of State Steve Barnett’s website.

“You will be able to see the date your absentee ballot application was received, the date your absentee ballot was sent to you and the date your absentee ballot was received by the county for the primary and general election,” Barnett said.

Voters who requested an absentee ballot during the primary and checked “all elections” at the time will receive an absentee ballot for the general election.

Yankton County Auditor Patty Hojem is looking for strong interest in the November election.

“We always have high turnout for the presidential election,” she said. “We haven’t had many calls with concerns for mailing. We tell them, if they’re concerned, they can drop the ballot at the drop box north of the building or bring the ballot into the auditor’s office.”

Starting Friday, absentee voting will be offered in the commission chambers. The room will be limited to eight voters and two staff at one time.

“I ask the public to be patient during this unprecedented time,” Hojem said.

Area county auditors are making many of the same plans, with some changes for their circumstances.

• BON HOMME: Auditor Tamara Brunken has already seen strong interest in absentee voting.

“We will be mailing out about 650 ballots on Friday, many more than past elections. Absentee voting is very popular and gets more so every year,” she said.

Brunken has received questions from voters on how to start receiving absentee ballots.

“A voter will only get a ballot if they fill out a request and send in the proper identification with the application or have the form notarized,” she said. “That is the only way they will receive a ballot by mail. Those ballots will not be counted or recorded in Bon Homme County until the polls close on election night.”

Bon Homme County voters, if they choose, can deposit their ballots in a drop box on the north side of the courthouse in Tyndall. Curbside voting will be offered if voters are unable to cast their ballot inside the courthouse.

The pandemic adds another element to what is already a busy procedure, Brunken said.

“The whole process has been challenging,” she said. “We’ll do our best to provide a safe, honest and correct election for 2020.”

• CHARLES MIX: Auditor Danielle Davenport has already heard from people anxious to vote as soon as possible.

“We will be processing 791 absentee ballots on Friday to be mailed out. We continue to receive more and more requests, along with phone calls from people planning to come in and vote on Friday,” she said. “Our courthouse (in Lake Andes) is opening to the public on Friday due to absentee voting beginning. (We’re) allowing registered voters to come in and exercise their right to vote, but masks are mandatory.”

Davenport and her staff are prepared to carry out their election duties during the pandemic.

“COVID has affected every aspect of day-to-day life, especially in the courthouse and election time,” she said. “I commend and applaud all of our poll workers that have offered to go out in the public and make the 2020 general election possible.”

• CLAY: Auditor Carri Crum foresees a strong turnout, whatever method a voter chooses for casting a ballot. Besides the general election, the City of Vermillion has combined its election with Clay County. Vermillion voters will decide the home rule charter question.

“My office already has almost 2,000 ballots to mail out on September 18, and requests keep coming,” she said. “Presidential election years always create a better turnout, but with the current political climate, I expect a really great turnout.”

The Clay County courthouse in Vermillion offers a drop box for ballots. During the primary, the county offered in-person absentee voting in its mobile command trailer in the courthouse parking lot. Those steps were taken because of limited space in the auditor’s office, and they may be taken again for the general election. Voters can also request to cast ballots in their vehicle, especially if they have mobility issues.

Crum encourages voters to drop off their ballots as soon as possible. Once cast, the ballots will be stored in a secure location, she said.

• HUTCHINSON: Auditor Diane Murtha said her office already has envelopes stuffed with absentee ballots and postage on them in advance to make it easier to mail Friday.

During the June primary, Hutchinson County received around 1,400 applications — 100 or more ballots a day at the peak — for absentee ballots, Murtha said.

“I anticipate a high turnout, since it is such a big election, both for in-person voting and by mail. We are getting more and more ballot applications every day,” she said. “We have been receiving a lot of questions about mail-in voting, but I think most of it is due to people being unaware of how the process works since people usually vote in person.”

Hutchinson County is currently setting up a permanent drop box outside of the Olivet courthouse for ballots. Starting Sept. 18, voters can cast their absentee ballots in the courthouse, and the county will also offer curbside voting.

Murtha encourages voters to drop off their ballots early. “It helps lighten our workload and guarantees your vote being counted, unlike if you wait and happen to miss the deadline,” she said.

The pandemic has created new obstacles and required new ways of thinking, Murtha said. “(The) greatest challenge is how to be the most efficient. No one has run a general election during a pandemic before, so we are just trying the best we can,” she said.

• TURNER: Auditor Sheila Hagemann anticipates absentee voting will be higher compared to previous years.

“We will be sending out almost 900 on Friday … and this is more then we have ever had total in a general election,” she said. “I do anticipate more people voting by mail and in person.”

Turner County will offer a drop box for ballots on the west side of the Parker courthouse, Hagemann said.

Hagemann expects absentee balloting will remain strong in future elections, even after the pandemic ends.

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