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New Voters Must Register Before Signing Petitions; Newly Moved, Deceased, and Convicted Still Count!

A couple of really interesting questions came up today as I circulated referendum petitions:

  1. It’s April 15. Ole Oleson really wants to sign a petition, but he hasn’t registered to vote yet. The circulator hands Ole a voter registration form. Ole eagerly fills out all the information, and the circulator promises to submit that form to the county auditor Ole. Since Ole will be a registered voter by the end of the week, and since his name will appear on the voter registration rolls when Secretary Krebs checks the petition after it is submitted on June 29, can Ole sign the petition on April 15?
  2. Lena Larson is a registered voter. She signs a referendum petition on April 15. But in May, she meets Sven Hjaalsgaard from Minnesota, falls in love, gets married, and moves to his farm northeast of Ortonville. She registers to vote in Minnesota on June 15. When Secretary Krebs reviews the referendum petition after it is submitted on June 29, will she count Lena’s signature as valid?

Ole: not technically a registered voter when he puts pen to petition on April 15, but on the rolls when Secretary Krebs opens the box and looks at the petition after June 29 (Schrödinger’s cat, anyone?).

Lena: registered when she puts pen to petition on April 15, but not on the rolls when Secretary Krebs checks.

Who’s legit, if anyone, in these cases?

Here are the answers, paraphrased from opinions sent in response to these queries today by the Secretary of State’s office:

  1. Ole’s signature is invalid. If the date accompanying his signature on the petition precedes the date the county auditor receives his voter registration form, Secretary Krebs throws that signature out. However, if Ole submits his registration form to the county auditor that day, then comes back, finds the circulator, and signs the petition, his signature counts! Even if it’s the same day, the county auditor must receive the voter registration form before that new voter signs the petition. (Of course, there’s no time of signing on the petition, just date, so we may have some trust issues….)
  2. Lena’s signature is valid! During the random sample verification of ballot measure petitions, Secretary Krebs will match names with the active voter file and with the unregistered (deregistered?) voter file. Signers who are registered voters on the day they sign remain valid on that petition even if they leave the voting rolls (by moving, death, or disenfranchisement by felony!) after signing but before Secretary Krebs receives and reviews the petition.

There you go: petition law made crystal clear. Ole, get registered! And Lena, live for the moment! That you are registered, right here, right now, at the clipboard, is all the matters.


  1. Bob Klein 2015-04-15 15:14

    Were I the circulator, I’m not sure me memory would be good enough to remember Ole’s issues. Perhaps I would remember to register him and then ask him to sign my petitions. I believe I’d take my chances with the auditor.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-15 15:25

    Bob, his name was Ole. He made all that effort. You’ll remember him! :-)

  3. Bob Klein 2015-04-15 15:36

    A composition error revealed! My memory would be cloudy on the legal issues!

    And my customer service training would lead me to want to satisfy Ole, best accomplished by accepting both his registration and his petition signatures.

    Now I suppose I should download those petitions!

  4. Kurt Evans 2015-04-15 16:01

    “Bob Klein” wrote:
    >”We’re I the circulator, I’m not sure me memory would be good enough to remember Ole’s issues. Perhaps I Would remember to register him and then ask him to sign my petitions. I believe I’d take my chances with the auditor.”

    That seems like something Bob Newland might write. #LawlessRebel

    It was before I jumped into the fray, but I’ve heard rumors that South Dakota formerly recognized voter registration as soon as the card was signed. Early Libertarian candidates would sometimes register someone with a Libertarian affiliation, get a signature on a nominating petition, and switch the voter back to his or her previous affiliation (or lack thereof) all in the same encounter.

    Occasionally a voter would hand the petition circulator a camera and hold up the Libertarian registration card for a photo before changing back. Then the circulator could drop off both cards at the courthouse, and the whole thing was legit.

    The current requirement that the card be at the courthouse before the nominator signs and switches back is obviously inconvenient (and usually unenforceable), but it’s probably more reasonable than the naked partisan cheating in SB 69.

  5. Bob Newland 2015-04-15 18:11

    There’s truth and legend in what Kurt Evans says. He’s right about everything. Secretaries of State Joyce Hazeltine and Chris Nelson had a less restrictive set of election laws to enforce, and when the law was not clear, they both approached the issue with an “intent of the voter(s)” attitude.

    I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of signatures submitted whose provenance was a motel room and a phone book. The legislature recognized that was happening and changed the law to make it more difficult. Seems reasonable enough; to require that the signatures on a petition be placed there by their owners.

    SB69, however, solved no problem, but did put significant new electoral hurdles in front of anyone who is not registered Republican. The penalties seem to fall heaviest on those who do not want to identify with a particular business and social club that calls itself an “official political party.”

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-15 19:33

    Bob, yes you should! Download here:

    And now I se more clearly what you were saying. Indeed, there’s a lot for circulators to remember. Heck, it’s hard enough just remember the key points of SB 69. But we’ll get all these points right—let’s aim for the highest accepted signature rate for a petition drive!

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