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:
- Amend SDCL 1-8-10 to exempt petitions from the $2/page copying fee.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.