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Tom Cool hopes to leverage Monae Johnson's 'election integrity' focus, become SD's top election official

Monae Johnson, who upset incumbent Steve Barnett at the Republican convention, has been difficult to pin down on the legitimacy of the past election. Democrat Tom Cool is betting that stance can turn enough swing voters to his side.

tom-cool-sos-augustana-university-viking-days-parade-2022.jpg
Tom Cool, a former newspaper reporter and four-time state Senate candidate in South Dakota, speaks to voters at the Viking Days parade at Augustana University. Cool is looking to land an upset over Monae Johnson on Nov. 8.
Courtesy Sharon Schulz-Elsing
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Whenever the entire Democratic ticket lines up to give speeches one at a time, Tom Cool, the party’s candidate for secretary of state, opens in the same manner.

“You should vote for [gubernatorial candidate] Jamie Smith and [Senate candidate] Brian Bengs this year,” Cool will say after introducing himself. “But if you want them to get re-elected, you have to vote for me, too.”

The beginning may be coy, but it also underscores a central question in the race for the state’s top election official: whether Cool’s Republican opponent, Monae Johnson, believes that Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

In a widely-shared interview with KELO-TV, Johnson, when asked if “Biden won the 2020 presidential election legitimately,” said she was “not going to acknowledge that.”

She took a similar tact in a recent interview with the nonprofit South Dakota Searchlight, though she did say that Biden “won the nation.”

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Monae Johnson, who spent 8 years in the secretary of state's office, is running on a platform of "election integrity," hoping to capitalize on voter fraud worries.
Monae Johnson, who worked in the secretary of state's office for 8 years, is running on a platform of 'election integrity,' hoping to capitalize on voter fraud worries left over from 2020.
Courtesy Monae Johnson

Johnson did not respond to a request for an interview from Forum News Service.

Before announcing her run, Johnson worked as a secretary in the office of the secretary of state for 8 years. Prior to that, Johnson was a small business owner; business filings are another key component of the secretary of state’s office.

She writes on her website that “election integrity” is the core value of her campaign. She adds that she is “against voter fraud, online voting and online voter registration.”

Under current law, online voting and online voter registration are not allowed.

Both Cool and Johnson have publicly stated an intent to comply with the provisions of a court ruling requiring the state to better implement a national voting rights law designed to proactively register voters. The violations mainly occurred within reservations.

“I did talk to some Native leaders and said, 'If elected, I want to come back out and talk to them about ways we can try to help that along,'” Cool said.

At the Republican convention in June, Johnson was chosen by the delegates over incumbent Secretary of State Steve Barnett, a longtime politician in South Dakota who served eight years as state auditor before his last four as secretary of state.

“You just normally do not oust an incumbent secretary of state who has done a fairly decent job as far as I think most of them are concerned,” Cool said.

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Though he has not received public support from elected officials in the Republican party, Cool does say that, through conversations with voters, the choice of Johnson over Barnett made a sizable contingent of conservatives move their support.

“I think there are a number of Republicans that were upset by what was done at their convention,” Cool said. “And hopefully, they’ll vote for me.”

MORE BY JASON HARWARD
On Nov. 8, South Dakotans rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized marijuana in the state among anyone 21 years and over. Now, the more than 100 businesses clamoring for a piece of this industry will have to attempt to sustain themselves on a few thousand medical patients.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or jharward@forumcomm.com.

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at jharward@forumcomm.com.
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