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Legislature Whacks Ballot Questions with Circulator Info Disclosure and Petition Size & Font Limit

Yesterday wasn’t all good for ballot measures in the Legislature. The Senate barely passed House Bill 1177, Rep. Drew Dennert’s part in the Republican push to deter citizens from participating in ballot question petition drives.

HB 1177 forces people circulating ballot question petitions to include their name, e-mail address, and phone number on the burgeoning compelled-speech form that the Legislature forces circulators to hand out. That requirement is better than the original form, in which Dennert would have required circulators give out their physical addresses as well.

However, HB 1177 creates more hassle for honest grassroots campaigners, who now must print out a fresh set of customized forms for each new circulator. Those forms have to be approved by the Secretary of State, so we can only hope that the next Secretary of State (this requirement doesn’t kick in until July 1, by which point there will be no petitions circulating) will interpret this statute to allow approval of a generic fill-in-the-blanks form; otherwise, every time a new volunteer comes to circulate, the ballot question sponsor will have to revise the form with the new circulator’s info, submit it to the SOS, and wait for a reply before turning the new circulator loose with petitions.

That hassle will weigh far more heavily on volunteer groups than on the big-money out-of-state mercenary circulators at whom Republicans claim they are aiming HB 1177 and other anti-ballot-question measures. HB 1177 is also far too easily circumvented to provide any real transparency: the petition sponsors can assign their circulators the same generic campaign phone number and e-mail address that they give themselves on that compelled speech form. HB 1177 thus gives signers no information that will practically identify whether the circulator is legit.

HB 1177 passed on a slim 18–5 margin.

Heading to the Senate for final action today is House Bill 1196, Speaker G. Mark Mickelson’s even bigger effort to scare people away from circulating petitions with criminal penalties. While Senate State Affairs amended the penalty on sponsors for violating the new law down from $25,000 to a mere $5,000 (gee whiz, that’s a relief) and removed a few of the disclosure demands, HB 1196 still requires petition sponsors to provide in a sworn affidavit all sorts of personal information about their circulators. Even more than HB 1177, HB 1196 expands the paperwork ballot question committees must do and opens them up to litigation and penalties under a law that inverts the presumption of innocence to favor the state over politically active citizens.

Notice also that HB 1196 and HB 1177 apply strictly to ballot question petitions. Not one bill this Session has sought to apply the same restrictions and accountability to the petitions legislators and other candidates circulate to get on the ballot.

For bonus hassle, the Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1004, which authorizes the Board of Elections to set rules for the size of the paper and font used for ballot question petitions. The Board of Elections could easily use this power to impose a de facto word limit on initiatives, thus unconstitutionally restricting South Dakotans’ right to propose new laws and constitutional amendments.

As my three previous posts note, the Legislature has rejected some burdens on initiative and referendum this Session. But the three bills listed here all put more unnecessary restrictions on South Dakotans’ constitutional right to put laws and constitutional amendments to a statewide vote. The Senate should reject HB 1196 today; absent that action, Governor Daugaard should veto HB 1196, HB 1177, and HB 1004 as hypocritical intrusions of the Legislature’s power over the citizens’ reserved right to legislate.


  1. Donald Pay 2018-03-06 15:52

    I have no problem with up-front training for circulators, but this seems to be just more bureaucracy designed to slow down grassroots citizens efforts that serves little purpose. I’ve always supported circulators wearing badges, and any information such as addresses, phone numbers could be kept with the Secretary of State.

    There’s the issue of harassment and threats to circulars that come along with this, and I would hope the Legislature would pass a law making it a felony to threaten or harass a petition circulator. Further, candidates and their paid or volunteer circulators should have to comply with whatever they do for ballot questions. The most egregious violators of petition circulating are, of course, the politicians, like the ones who pass these kinds of laws, who think their poop doesn’t stink.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-03-06 16:01

    Among the killers in HB 1196: sponsors have to get a sworn statement from each circulator declaring the circulator’s intent to stay in South Dakota. That paperwork, on top of having to get each circulator’s driver’s license number and two most recent past addresses, makes recruiting circulators a huge pain.

    I’m happy to train my circulators; I hate the idea of having to interrogate them.

  3. Bucko Bear 2018-03-06 16:17

    What do you call a government where the elected representatives hate the citizens ?

  4. Donald Pay 2018-03-06 17:16

    Cory, I doubt any of this stuff could stand up to a lawsuit. It’s forced speech, same as the AG explanation.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-03-06 17:46

    Donald, I can see the compelled speech argument against HB 1177. To have standing to file that suit, would I need to circulate a petition?

    Does HB 1196 compel speech? It has no public-facing statement. It just requires that the ballot question sponsors file a whole bunch of information about circulators with the SOS.

    HB 1004 doesn’t compel speech; it limits speech by allowing the Board of Elections to create a de facto word limit for initiated measures and amendments. To have standing to challenge that bill in court, would I have to compose an initiative that is one word too long to fit on the prescribed form and have Secretary Krebs turn it down?

  6. Debbo 2018-03-06 20:54

    The SDGOP really doesn’t like citizen involvement in government. Really. Doesn’t.

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