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Cmte Strikes District-Residency Requirement from HB 1275; Geographical Quota Still Creates Double Standard

LRC finally posted the House State Affairs amendment to HB 1275, and I can report with some relief that, in addition to lowering the number of Senate districts in from which signatures must be obtained from 24 to 18, prime sponsor Rep. Steven Haugaard’s amendment includes striking the circulator residency requirement. The stricken circulator residency requirement would have forbidden residents of one district from collecting signatures from residents of any other district. That restriction, which would have effectively required a petition both at the State Fair to have 35 circulators on duty, one from each Senate district, was the most onerous and destructive plank of this assault on initiative and referendum.

However, HB 1275 still imposes an unnecessary and unacceptable double standards on ballot question petition circulators. Here’s what remains wrong with HB 1275:

  1. The bill still requires signers to include their Senate district number, which is information most people don’t know off hand and which will thus lead to a much higher rate of signatures being thrown out (translate: voters voices not being heard!) on technicalities.
  2. The bill still requires initiative petitioners to obtain signatures from at least 5% of the qualified electors “in a majority of the Senate districts,” which requires data on the turnout in the last election for governor in each district, which is data no one, not even the Secretary of State, has.
  3. The bill still imposes three different (and still unclear) standards for petitions for initiated laws, referred laws, and initiated amendments, creating unnecessary confusion in circulating and verifying petitions:
    1. Section 1 appears to require petitions for initiated laws to include signatures from 5% of the qualified electors in a majority of Senate districts. If we assume 8,000 voters per district, that language suggests a petition needs at least 7,200 signatures, or an average of 400 from each of 18 districts.
    2. Section 4 says petitions for referred laws “shall contain signatures of qualified electors from a majority of the Senate districts.” That language suggests a referral petition still requires signatures equaling 5% of the last statewide turnout for governor—currently, 13,871 signatures—but circulators could get 13,854 of those signatures from District 1 and then one more from each of Districts 2 through 18.
    3. Section 6 seems not to impose any geographical quota on petitions for constitutional amendments. Circulators still need to get every signer’s district number.
  4. The bill still bases its needless geographical quota on arbitrary maps that change every ten years.
  5. The bill creates a double standard versus statewide candidates, who can still get all of their nominating petition signatures from one district, town, or county if they want.
  6. The bill creates a double standard versus bills proposed in the Legislature: one legislator can propose a bill without getting sponsors from any certain number of Senate districts. (Remember: HB 1275 itself has sponsors from only one third of all districts.)

The circulator residency requirement was nuts and needed to die. But geographical quotas for ballot question petitions remain unnecessary, unworkable, and more unhelpful to initiative and referendum than any of the other bad bills Republicans have proposed this Session to hamstring popular democracy. House Bill 1275 still needs to die.


  1. Donald Pay 2018-02-16 09:37

    It’s unconstitutional. The SD Constitution lays out exactly the number of signatures required. It does not say those signatures have to be obtained in any geographic way. Similarly, the SD Constitution lays out that Legislators may introduce any bill. Legislators don’t need co-sponsors from two-thirds of the Legislature. The Constitution provides for initiative in a certain way. Legislators can make laws to implement those provisions, but they cannot change them.

  2. Drey Samuelson 2018-02-17 04:22

    Very well stated, Don–doesn’t the LRC inform legislators when bills they want to draft have constitutional problems? They certainly do when it’s their view with submitted initiatives, at least…

  3. Donald Pay 2018-02-17 09:48

    I can’t speak for every initiative drive, but the ones I was involved went through several meetings where drafts were discussed, dissected and amended. One or more attorneys looked at them, and then they went through the Legislative Research Council. We always asked LRC to flag problems that they saw in our proposals, and suggest alternative language. We had no pride of authorship, and welcomed input that would make our proposals better. In particular, when we knew we were skating close to constitutional issues, we made sure our proposals could be defended through precedent. Most of our initiatives were improved by the LRC.

    From what I see of bills, even those introduced by a supposed Ha-vad trained law-ya, they haven’t gone through that rigorous process before introduction.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-02-17 10:37

    Donald, I like the argument that the Constitution refers to “qualified electors of the state” and not “qualified electors in a majority of Senate districts.”

    But I wonder: does the Constitution permit legislators to limit “qualified electors” in statute by geographical location in the same way that they define “qualified electors” in statute as a percentage of the last gubernatorial vote?

  5. Donald Pay 2018-02-17 11:33

    No. The Constitution defines who has a right to sign a petition and what the threshold is for a successful petition. The second is just the statutory rubric used to count the number of signatures required by the Constitution, and doesn’t change the Constitutional requirement.

    The rubric has changed from time to time. When it has changed there have been delicate compromises made to assure that the intent of the Constitutional language is fully met, while making it easier to administer.

    There is the question of “elector” versus “qualified elector.” Technically, in my view, a person who is otherwise qualified to vote (by age or residency requirements), but not registered to vote, may still sign a petition and have his or her signature count. However, it then becomes an administrative nightmare to determine signatures validity. They have now gone to sampling, which brings in a level of uncertainty, but one which is small. If someone so situated wanted to sue, I suppose they could make the case, but in reality, it’s not a big issue.

    One thing you would have to do to administer the monstrosity is get rid of sampling, because it generate too much variability with the district requirements. It would introduce immense problems in administration.

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