One of Speaker G. Mark Mickelson’s meaner ideas passed the House this afternoon, though not without some Republicans telling the Speaker he’s going too far in his war on initiative and referendum.
House Bill 1196 goes ape on ballot question sponsors and petitioners. Section 6 requires that sponsors include in the sworn affidavit accompanying their submitted petitions the following information about every circulator who helps the cause:
- Current state in which the petition circulator is licensed to drive, driver license number, and expiration date;
- Current state of voter registration;
- Length of time at current physical street address and previous two addresses, and whether the prior addresses were located in South Dakota;
- Whether the current physical street address of immediate family, if applicable, is located in South Dakota;
- Current state in which any motor vehicle that is owned or leased by the petition circulator is licensed;
- A sworn statement by the petition circulator indicating the circulator’s intention to stay in the state after the petition circulation deadline, including the type and location of the circulator’s intended employment;
- Any other information relevant to indicate residency, including a library card or utility bill;
- Whether the petition circulator pays in-state tuition at any public postsecondary educational institution, if applicable;
- Whether the petition circulator obtains any resident hunting or resident fishing license of any kind, if applicable; and
- Whether the prefix on the petition circulator’s mobile telephone, if applicable, is a South Dakota area code.
Consider the violations of privacy, decency, and presumption of innocence here.
#3 requires that circulators tell the government the whereabouts of their immediate family members.
#5 requires circulators to tell the state how many cars they own and where they own them.
#6 requires circulators to swear to “intentions” of residence and employment, which may become impossible to carry out if an unfriendly state official calls those employers and scares them off hiring these politically active circulators.
#7 creates an unworkably vague and open-ended demand for information. A circulator may include a library card and a utility bill, but a zealous prosecutor may read “any other information” in the statute and say, “Ah, but your phone bill and apartment lease are also relevant to indicate residency, and you failed to submit those! Gotcha!”
Even if circulators satisfy all ten of those demands, HB 1196 can still hang them. Section 6 goes on to say, “The information included in the affidavit are factors in determining residency but are not determinative.” Not only is that sentence radically ungrammatical but Kafkaesque. Circulators and sponsors are required to render a pile of evidence of residency by a statute that then declares that evidence doesn’t really, fully determine residency.
In other words, not only does HB 1196 flip the burden of proof onto circulators to prove they are innocent of any crime against the electorate, but HB 1196 also provides no reliable standard for proving one’s innocence.
Good grief: wouldn’t it be easier just to have every signer ask the circulator to pronounce our state capital or the town north of Spearfish as a secret statewide password?
I share Speaker Mickelson’s concern about mercenary out-of-state liars corrupting our petition process. Heck, I’ve dogged such liars in parking lots and sidewalks. But Mickelson isn’t really trying to catch out-of-state circulators. If he were, he’d call the cops and tell them to do their jobs and enforce the law we already have banning out-of-state circulators. Mickelson is simply creating the umpteenth barrier of bureaucracy and intimidation to discourage citizens from getting involved in ballot question campaigns. (You want to circulate a petition? Great! First, fill out this ten-question form, give me your personal information, and bring me copies of your library card and utility bill.)
Rep. David Lust (R-34/Rapid City) agrees that HB 1196 goes too far:
“The prescribed cure rather than being precise and using a scalpel uses a backhoe,” Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, told representatives on the House floor. “We have prescribed a remedy that is just over the top” [Dana Ferguson, “House Passes Election Reform Bill Opponents Call ‘Onslaught’ Against Initiative Process,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2018.02.07].
Rep. Lust chooses his metaphors well. Mickelson isn’t performing surgery; he wants to conduct a funeral for initiative and referendum in South Dakota.
Lust and 17 other Republicans (including senior legislators Brunner, Conzet, and Hunhoff) joined the trusty Democratic caucus in opposing this part of Mickelson’s attack on democracy. The final vote was 40–27.