The general election isn’t until Nov. 2, but South Dakota residents can start voting absentee this week.
And, according to the Associated Press, two of those ballots will come from Frank and Patsy Norton, RVers who call South Dakota home but travel the country in their 38-foot travel trailer.
These roving voters concern some county auditors, who wonder if their absentee ballots could sway close races like the U.S. Senate contest between Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle and Republican John Thune. In 2002, incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson beat Thune by just 524 votes.
“If this Senate race is as close as two years ago, these out-of-state voters could definitely impact it,” said Sue Roust, Minnehaha County auditor. “So many of them say they only want to vote for president. But they get a ballot with all the names on it so we don’t know who they’re voting for.”
Frank and Patsy Norton, 71 and 68 respectively, no longer pay property taxes because they live out of their RV. And, like others who want to take advantage of South Dakota’s lack of a state income tax and low vehicle registration fees, they’ve become residents.
Local businesses like My Home Address Inc. help support their vagabond lifestyle, providing them with a mailing address – and the right to vote in elections – even though they don’t own a permanent home.
Secretary of State Chris Nelson said nothing is in the works to change the process and there hasn’t been much concern about it at the state level.
“The fact of the matter is every person who is a citizen of the United States and a resident of South Dakota has the right to vote here,” he said. “Full-time RVers or homeless.”
Janet Ibis, the county auditor in Hanson County, where My Home Address Inc. is located, said she set up a separate precinct to handle returns from the roughly 700 RVers who have registered to vote.
In Minnehaha County, Roust plans to look at the numbers after the election to see if RV voters do impact any elections. More than 1,700 voters in Minnehaha County now list permanent residences as a motel or campground – a sign of a roving voter, she said.
“What I’m told from people who are RVers from here who winter in the South is in Arizona, you go into a campground where RVs are and they say half the RVs have South Dakota plates,” she said. “It’s becoming more and more obvious to everybody.”
In one precinct in western Sioux Falls, there already have been 579 requests for absentee ballots, compared to the normal 10 to 30, Roust said.
The permanent residents registered in that precinct are 43 percent Democrat and 40 percent Republican, but the RV voters are 27 percent Democrat and 46 percent GOP, she said.
“So you can see there’s a huge swing,” Roust said.