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South Dakota Becomes First State with Online Pardon Application

New site stands to make process easier for both applicants and state workers reviewing applications.

In some states, offenders with felony charges on their records have to go through stacks of paperwork and as long as two years of waiting to learn if the governor is willing to pardon an offense. Seeking to hasten a potentially lengthy ordeal, and in the process ease the bureaucratic burden on state government, South Dakota has now put such apps online.

This new online pardon application process  was first mentioned in Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s State of the State address earlier this year. Its official rollout was Tuesday, May 16, and it stands as the most recent step in the state’s ongoing efforts to make government more efficient and effective through the use of digital tools and civic tech — efforts being spearheaded by the governor.

With the previous system, a South Dakota resident seeking pardon had to go to the Department of Correction’s website, find and download forms, print them, fill them out, and then mail them to the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles. Oftentimes, these forms would be incomplete, or the applicant would put a lot of work into a form that did not apply to him or her, meaning it ultimately had to be sent back, said Sadie Stevens, South Dakota’s director of constituent services.

“Receiving a pardon is an extraordinary act, but it doesn’t mean it has to be confusing,” Stevens said. “So many of the governor’s initiatives while he’s been in office have revolved around making the government more efficient and more transparent. He’s been a huge proponent of using technology to reach his goals. The previous pardon process — it worked — but there were ways we could make it more efficient and easier for the applicant to understand.”

On the new site, applicants can use an eligibility tracker that asks a series of simple yes or no questions to determine if they are eligible to receive a pardon, thereby cutting down on applications from those who are not. The goal was to provide potential applicants with as much easy-to-find information as possible up front.

In addition to easing frustration and timeframes from those seeking pardons, the new site stands to make life quite a bit easier for the state workers who formerly handled paper applications, passing them on to a state board, who then determined which pardons reached the governor's desk. Now that it’s online, all the relevant information is stored digitally, where it can be forwarded with a click rather than via a 3- or 4-inch thick physical binder.

Essentially, Stevens said, the point is that “making it more accessible for the applicant has really made it easier for individuals on the state side, too.”

The governor’s office is lauding this site as the first online pardon application process in the nation.

“I am proud South Dakota is the first to have an online, paperless pardon process,” said Gov. Daugaard in a statement. “The task of making state government more efficient and accessible requires a constant effort. In the last six-and-a-half years we have also created a Boards and Commissions portal and an administrative rules website, and put more online than ever before. Economic development grants, restaurant inspections, payroll information and vendor payments are now posted and easy to find.”

For those who prefer, the state is also still accepting paper applications.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine