Petition Transparency: Post Nominating and Ballot Question Petitions Online for Free!

My conversation with Greg Belfrage on KELO Radio this morning reminds me of one of the bills I want to throw in the hopper next year: the Petition Transparency Bill.

Right now, if citizens want to challenge a ballot measure petition or a nominating petition, they have to pay $2 per sheet for copies to review. A statewide ballot measure petition may consist of thousands of sheets. As I calculated last December, a citizen wanting to challenge a ballot measure petition could end up spending nearly $10,000 just to obtain a copy of all petition signatures. That’s prior to any of the people-hours of investigative work necessary to pore through all of those handwritten petition sheets for errors and infractions.

I’ll work with the Legislative Research Council and the Secretary of State on the exact language, but here’s what we can do to make petitions more transparent and accessible:

  1. Amend SDCL 1-8-10 to exempt petitions from the $2/page copying fee.
  2. Require the Secretary of State to make a complete electronic copy of every ballot measure petition and nominating petition submitted to her office and make that electronic copy available for public download in PDF format.
  3. Specify that a petition is not considered validated and filed by the Secretary of State (and thus that the challenge period of five business days for nominating petitions and thirty days for statewide ballot measure petitions does not begin) until that electronic copy of the petition is posted for public download on the Secretary of State’s website.
  4. Require that the Secretary of State’s office adopt an electronic petitioning system that will allow for verifiable electronic signatures, instant validation of signatures by cross-check with the current voter registration database, and generation of searchable text files of all information entered on electronic petition sheets.

Making petitions available to the public in free electronic format will make challenging petitions easier. Adopting a way to circulate and sign petitions on mobile wireless devices may make challenges unnecessary, since circulators will be able to check the signatures they collect on the spot.


17 Responses to Petition Transparency: Post Nominating and Ballot Question Petitions Online for Free!

  1. I like the idea of having the petitions available online for free. If that could be passed there really wouldn’t need to be a provision to have the SOS office copy for free. Technically it is free now if you bring in your own equipment; such as a laptop and duplex scanner. That would be the quickest /easiest way.

  2. mike from iowa

    Two bucks per copy-what are they copying with, a hammer and chisel?

    Employees ought to be holding guns on customers to make it look like authentic highway robbery. Sheesh.

  3. Only issue I see is in advertisers and data miners swarming to a convenient list of names and addresses

    The instant validation in point four should be implemented one way or another. I talked to multiple people last year who claimed the out-of-state mercenaries instructed them to sign, despite not being registered to vote.

  4. [CAH edit: I’m not going to get in the habit, but Kris, here’s another free lesson. Compare what you wrote:

    only petition me n my pops are signen is da 36%. dos guys jumped us at target in Sioux falls and lied to us. thay told us da 36% was da fake one. wen thay came from behind a car dat scared da hell out of us! it was like a race to get to us.

    …with the properly spelled version:

    Only petition me and my pops are singing is the 36%. Those guys jumped us at Target in Sioux Falls and lied to us. They told us the 36% was the fake one. When they came from behind a car, that scared the hell out of us! It was like a race to get to us.

    Take your time. Speak/write clearly. People will pay attention to your words more.]

  5. Joseph Nelson

    Why not set up something like the https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/ ?

    When you create an account, you add all your personal details, which then links to the https://sos.sd.gov/elections/VIPLogin.aspx . Then, if you create a petition, you can indicate what districts the petition applies to, and then only people registered in that district can sign it. As for the valid digital signature, that is easy enough to do, just like what people can use for filing their taxes online.

    Seems like it can be easy enough, and local libraries and county offices can have kiosks for those who do not own personal computers.

    Online petitions would be great, and increase the amount of political participation from the populace! Heck, if you made a smart phone app, you could link your digital signature with your thumbprint for added security.

  6. Stace Nelson

    Great bill idea, I would have to see the verbiage; however, I can say I support this in principle and would cosign. I would like to see it extended to candidates petitions also.

  7. Miller, on advertisers and data-miners: could we include a clause as exists currently with the entire voter registration list that prohibits any commercial use of the data?

  8. Stace, I’ll absolutely include candidate petitions and welcome your co-sponsorship… although I will welcome the co-sponsorship of District 19 Senator Russell Graeff even more. ;-)

  9. Technically true, Ken, but to get those free copies, a majority of South Dakotans have to spend a tank of gas, six hours on the road, and then how much time passing 4,000+ sheets through their portable scanner? Given that the SOS has already done that work once, why require duplicative work from every interested private party?

  10. Miller, thinking about instant validation: that would really change the business model for professional circulators. Those companies base some of their contract/charges on promises to validate signatures and provide certain validity rates. If the state offered an app that validated (and submitted?) signatures on the spot, that service becomes irrelevant.

    For all circulators, mercenary or grassroots, instant validation would provide a great ongoing metric of how we’re doing. An organizer could check the total valid signatures and adjust daily targets every day.

  11. Joseph, I’d love to see something like the White House petitions system, with more rigor, and translated into real ballot questions. That will be the hardest part of this bill to pass, as other legislators and citizens will rightly ask about security. We want a more open system that encouraged participation, but it has to have at least as much protection against fraud as the current system.

    Thumbprints: does the state have everyone’s thumbprint on file? Does the SOS have the technology to verify thumbprints?

  12. Stace Nelson

    @CAH Tsk, tsk… Supporting my opponent simply because he’s a registered Democrat? Do you know anything else about him? If you do, please share. Other than his recent trevails with LE, no one seems to know anything about him other than he is purportedly a place holder candidate.

  13. owen reitzel

    Are you going to listen to what your opponent has to say Stace or are you going to being up his run in with LE?

  14. Douglas Wiken

    Limit downloads to verified South Dakota residents who agree/certify they will not sell the data to anybody.

  15. Joe Nelson

    Cory, I don’t think the state would need need fingerprints on file, I was thinking security features on the end user like. But, I would not be against fingerprints being on file; much lile the military, a person’s thumbprint could be tied to their ID card. Heck it could be tied to their voter registration, that way you would not even need an ID or form, just your thumb, when going to vote.

  16. Joseph, sounds good—we need to have a discussion about the most reliable user-side verification features. The tech is out there—we just need to put it to work on petitions. May I appoint you to the SOS e-petition task force as security specialist? Care to spend a few days in Pierre? :-)

  17. Stace, I said no such thing. You know I’ll work with you on whatever bills we can find common ground on. But I’ve spoken to Russell face-to-face, and I know he and I can find common ground on even more bills than you and I can. Placeholder schmaceholder: in the eyes of the law, you have a challenger.

    That said, I will acknowledge that candidate Nelson is here saying in public that he supports my Petition Transparency Bill, while candidate Graeff has yet to weigh in. (The technical term for that last sentence is bait. ;-) )