Circulator Notes: Webster Postal Worker Tries to Evict Petitioner

I enjoyed a pleasant couple hours circulating petitions in beautiful downtown Webster yesterday. Among my adventures was my first encounter all year with a government employee telling me to vacate the premises.

I was circulating in front of the Webster Post Office when a blue-shirted gentleman came out and said federal law says I can’t circulate petitions on federal property. Having covered the Rapid City Post Office’s eviction by arrest of a petitioner this spring, I told the postal employee that he was mistaken, that citizens may use the sidewalk alongside the roadway outside the post office for First Amendment activities. “We’ll see what the boss says,” the postal worker said as he headed back inside.

The boss never out to say anything, and the Webster Police drove by without even looking my way, probably because they looked at federal law 39 CFR 232.1, relevant parts of which I highlighted in my April article on this topic:

“Soliciting alms and contributions, campaigning for election to any public office, collecting private debts, soliciting and vending for commercial purposes (including, but not limited to, the vending of newspapers and other publications), displaying or distributing commercial advertising, collecting signatures on petitions [emphasis mine], polls, or surveys (except as otherwise authorized by Postal Service regulations), are prohibited” on post office grounds. 39 CFR 232.1(a)(ii) says one can collect petition signatures on “sidewalks along the street frontage of postal property falling within the property lines of the Postal Service that are not physically distinguishable from adjacent municipal or other public sidewalks, and any paved areas adjacent to such sidewalks that are not physically distinguishable from such sidewalks” [CAH, 2015.04.16].

Let’s look at the Webster Post Office building and grounds:

Webster Post Office, aerial view, Google Maps, annotated by CAH.
Webster Post Office, aerial view, Google Maps, annotated by CAH.

Reading 39 CFR 232.1 strictly, the area I’ve marked in red would appear to be off limits to petitioning, soliciting, vending, etc. Concrete apron and steps, wheelchair ramp, grassy areas—no First Amendment (although the sole danger that justifies this infringement on citizen rights, possible interference with the movement of U.S. Mail, seems less likely on those grassy patches north and south, out of the direct line of mail movement). I’ve marked in green the sidewalk adjacent to the Webster Post Office. That public right-of-way appears to be exactly the area specified by 39 CFR 232.1 as a free speech zone.

Besides, look who else was in front of the Webster Post Office engaging in what the postal worker thought was a violation of federal law:

Watertown Public Opinion vending box in front of Webster Post Office, 2015.10.20.
Watertown Public Opinion vending box in front of Webster Post Office, 2015.10.20.

The Watertown Public Opinion has placed a newspaper vending box on the concrete apron, right next to the P.O. steps. it is set back a few feet from the sidewalk, thus falling in what the wording of 39 CFR 232.1 induces me to mark in red. 39 CFR 232.1(h)(1) explicitly mentions the vending of newspapers as a prohibited activity on postal grounds. Either the Watertown Public Opinion is violating 39 CFR 232.1, or someone at the Post Office has designated the concrete apron as part of the public right-of-way, which would mean petitioners can collect signatures there as freely as the United Communications Corporation of Kenosha, Wisconsin, can hawk its wares.

But as I said, the boss didn’t come back out to say anything, so I guess Webster postmaster Jody Jorgenson already knows the limits to his authority to infringe on the First Amendment.

*     *     *

One civilian came out of the post office and asked, not too threateningly, just what the hell I was doing. I explained that I was collecting signatures to put ballot initiatives to a vote in 2016. He proceeded to ask where I’m from, where I’m born, and whether I’ve heard of famed Webster native Brock Lesnar. I was only faintly familiar with the Lesnar name, but my interlocutor found my answers to the other question sufficiently detailed to trust me and sign the petitions. He said he’d heard about shady petitioners in the news and about how folks should ask petitioners questions before signing anything.

*     *     *

A Webster woman told me she’d encountered a circulator at the big Webster Pumpkinfest a couple weekends ago. She wasn’t sure which petitions the man was carrying, because he couldn’t provide her with the legally required attorney general’s explanation (see SDCL 2-1-1.1 and SDCL 2-1-1.2). When she asked to read the petition itself, he told her there wasn’t time for her to read it and that she ought to just sign it. She walked away from that shady circulator. She signed my petitions yesterday.

*     *     *

One man couldn’t give me his signature because he’s not registered to vote. “I’m a felon,” he said. I asked if he’d finished his sentence, probation and all. He said yes, his infractions happened in another state a long time ago. He was under the impression, however, that a felony conviction bans one from voting for life. I said I would defer to his obviously more extensive experience with the criminal justice system, but I checked the Secretary of State’s website and found this page explaining South Dakota’s voting laws for felons. According to SOS Krebs, if a felon has finished his or her sentence, that felon can register to vote. I gave the guy the URL on my business card and told the guy to stop by the courthouse. Maybe Day County will get one more voter this week.

13 Responses to Circulator Notes: Webster Postal Worker Tries to Evict Petitioner

  1. Lanny V Stricherz

    Which leads me to the question I had Monday. Being an older person, I was taking a nap when there was a knock at my door. I was somewhat perturbed anyway when I got to the door, to find two gentlemen and a woman outside, with two petitions. I asked who had let them in the building. They said the manager. I said no, we don’t have an on site manger, then they said some folks who were working on the grounds. Anyway, the two petitions were for “Marcy’S law” (sp) and the 18%interest. When I disputed the 18% one as the fallousy that it is, they asked would I at least sign the other. When I said I already had, one of the guys said well you can sign it again. When I disputed that they left the building.

    My question is, can they come on private property to circulate the petitions? These were clearly out of staters.

  2. mike from iowa

    Is this what you were doing,Cory?
    Words and Music by Bob Seger

    I remember standing on the corner at midnight
    Trying to get my courage up
    There was this long lovely dancer in a little club downtown
    I loved to watch her do her stuff
    Through the long lonely nights she filled my sleep
    Her body softly swaying to that smoky beat
    Down on Mainstreet

    Just kidding. :)

  3. Lanny, petitioners can go door to door. I’m not sure what the specifics are on going to apartments inside a complex, although if there is controlled access, then I would assume they can’t come in and work the hallway.

    They are certainly encouraging illegal activity when they say you can sign twice. And if I were a smart petitioner, I certainly wouldn’t bring a whole gang to the door. Come to the door one on one. Their team effort indicates they are out-of-staters lugging around a South Dakota “witness” to skirt the law requiring circulators to be South Dakota residents. If they come again, get pictures and names!

    And again we see the Marsy’s Law–fake 18% combo, which calls into question the merits of the Marsy’s Law peition.

  4. Porter Lansing

    One wonders, if the Republic Party gets their wish and the Postal Service is privatized, then all access to circulators could be curtailed legally.
    As an aside: EB-5 and Gear-Up are perfect examples of why privatization is so harmful. Setting up shell corporations to move money from hand to hand a few times before dispersal and charging huge fees and salaries to do so is just what the Republic Party wants. SMALLER GOVERNMENT BRINGS BIGGER CORRUPTION (and virtually NO oversight).

  5. Porter, USPS can already ban circulators inside the post office or in a parking lot separate from the street. But we can’t let them, UPS, or anyone else privatize the sidewalks and ban this First Amendment activity from our public streets.

  6. Lanny V Stricherz

    It’s not just any public street in Sioux Falls. First Amendment rights for certain activities only apply in front of federal property such as the post office or the Federal building. When we held protests during the Iraq war, we had to be in front of the federal building or get a permit from the police department for crowds over 10 people. That came about when they passed a law to stop the young people from gathering downtown and on the loop.

  7. Lanny, I didn’t know such different rules existed in Sioux Falls. Are you telling me Sioux Falls ordinance is more oppressive than federal rules?

    Either way, remind me not to petition with a crowd of ten people. I don’t work well in groups, anyway. :-)

  8. Lanny V Stricherz

    When the Iraq war started the afternoon (our time) of 3-19-2003, we had a prearranged place to meet, to protest the war. I took off work and went to the sidewalk on Western Ave across the park from the VA Hospital, and met there with about 30 or 40 other people. We protested until after midnight. THe police came by and checked on us every so often. If we happened to get on the park grass rather than the sidewalk, they would harass us.

    We were also harassed down in front of the Federal building for the first few weeks that we met there on Sunday afternoons.

    When Dick Cheney came to the Ramkota to support John Thune in his run against Tom Daschle, (I was there to protest Cheney and his war policies not against Thune or for Daschle). I got permission from the owners of the Howard Johnson’s across the street. THe police came and made me move to the street on the east side of the Ramkota, because they had that spot set up for the protesters that they knew were coming. This of course was so that the Vice President would not have to suffer the embarrassment of being protested in good old right wing SD, because the VP would be coming in on the west side of the building. I should have refused to move and gotten arrested, but as I was nearing retirement age was not sure of how I might be risking my retirement etc. In other words I was chicken.

    SF has always supported the right wing agenda. The times that the Morrell workers went on strike and set up picket lines. the police were always there to protect the scabs and keep law and order. That may be as it should be. But then the PD and the media complained about having to spend tax dollars because of those filthy union guys going on strike. At the strike in 1936, The governor called out the National guard to protect the scabs (Joe Foss included) and there was a huge fight between the scabs and NG and the Union Strikers.

  9. Lanny V Stricherz

    I should also have said that The entire property including the park was owned at that time by the VA so that it was Federal property. The VA has since sold much of the Park to the City to build the Indoor aqua center that is being built currently.

  10. limits on 1st amendment huh? don’t suppose we could put limits on 2nd amendment (gun free zones in public places). let barry carry in his home, but not at every public place ?

  11. Lanny V Stricherz

    barry, what about Manny Steele? I still have to laugh every time I think about it when they had the march up Minnesota Ave displaying their 2nd amend rights and he dropped our when they got to 26th St. The march went on to the Starbucks on 13th St. It was not long after that, that Starbucks passed a rule nationwide, no guns on the premises.

  12. barry freed

    I’m sorry, but I didn’t see where ” Barry” made a comment, but I can’t let you cheap shooters do a drive-by unanswered.

    Leslie: Name calling proves you have no faith in your own nonsense, and in frustration, resort to childish tactics as your lies are shot down every time.

    Lanny, you are a self-confessed coward (see above), yet your are brave enough to criticize those responsible for your safety from home invaders: gun owners. Your actions are like those of the German citizens who thought about protesting, but instead let the Nazis, step by step, Law by Law, disarm the populace and then march “undesirables” off to work camps. Then without guns, their excuse was: resistance is useless against the armed Nazis. You give cheney a pass to protect yourself from a Government you believe will use force to take what you earned for protesting against the War Criminal, while criticizing the man in Sioux Falls who used his gun to defend himself and neighbors from a machete wielding crazy. That story passed without a headline on this blog as it doesn’t fit the official “Most Liberal” narrative.
    As far as your question of someone just like yourself that when push came to shove, found he truly fears his Government, I shudder when I see people carry their guns in a display to express one of their Constitutional Rights. It gives hypocrites ammunition to express with their First Amendment Right with shallow thoughts and lies.

  13. Was Leslie just rhyming? :-)

    Barry, on your response to Lanny, what non-state gun owner is keeping Lanny’s house safe? None of those guys who marched up Minnesota Ave to Starbucks with their assault weapons contributed to Lanny’s or my safety. They aren’t doing so right now. They aren’t keeping Lanny or South Dakota safe from the payday-lending corporations who are trying to steal our signatures and our ballot initiative process (oh yeah! circulators! That’s where this thread started!). No gun-toter is going to keep me safe in my exercise of First Amendment rights on the sidewalk out front of the post office… and I wouldn’t want someone brandishing a gun to walk up and hang around me while I was circulating.

    I am doing far more to protect my neighbors’ liberty by placing measures on the ballot than I ever could by carrying a gun around town.