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Hamiel Makes Bad Arguments for Geographical Quotas and Circulator Registry and Badges

Noel Hamiel really outdoes himself in his latest guest column in the Rapid City Journal. The former legislator and newspaperman offers not one but two bad arguments as cover for his Republican friends’ efforts to stifle your right to vote on the laws that affect your life.

First, Hamiel revisits a bad old idea from 2009, a bill he proposed to force ballot question petitioners to travel to at least 33 counties to put their measures to a vote.

For decades, I had watched petition circulators collect signatures by the thousands at strategic locations like the Empire Mall in Sioux Falls. And why not? It was an extraordinarily efficient way to garner the required number of signers. However, I thought it disenfranchised rural South Dakotans because it failed to carry the message of the initiated measure to small towns across the state.

If a measure had merit, I reasoned, it wouldn’t have any difficulty collecting names outside Sioux Falls or Rapid City.

Basically, HB1188 required initiated measures to include not less than 5 percent of the signatures of qualified voters in each of at least 33 counties. The bill had some bipartisan support and passed the House 39-27. But it ran into strong headwinds in the Senate, where opponents said it would make the initiated process more difficult [Noel Hamiel, “Petition Law Adds Transparency,” Rapid City Journal, 2019.08.04].

Hamiel holds initiative and referendum campaigns to different standards from anyone else in politics or business. Does a candidate for Governor or Congress not have merit if all of her petition signatures come from high-population, high-traffic locations in Sioux Falls and Rapid City? Does Wal-Mart not have merit because it only puts stores in twelve out of South Dakota’s 66 counties? Is organization to be faulted for operating at peak efficiency by deploying its resources where it can find the most people?

Hamiel’s belief that efficient petition drives disenfranchise smaller-town South Dakotans is false. Circulating a petition in Sioux Falls or Rapid City disenfranchises no one. Every voter in the state gets to vote on a ballot question, whether the voter has signed the ballot question’s petition or not. If Hamiel really believed that folks out in Harding County are “disenfranchised” by usually only getting to sign petitions when they drive down to Rapid City for provisions, he would advocate allowing us to circulate ballot question petitions online, which would make it just as easy to collect signatures from Camp Crook and Running Water as from our big towns.

Geographical quotas for ballot question petition drives are regularly floated by Republican legislators (Bolin in 2016, Gosch in 2017, Haugaard and Novstrup in 2018). Republicans never apply these quotas to candidate petitions, only to initiative and referendum, the form of public political expression that more often than any other in South Dakota tends to break against their partisan interests. Hamiel, like his Republican friends, isn’t interested in fairness or enfranchisement; he’s interested in stifling grassroots South Dakotans’ ability to put laws to a vote of the people.

But Hamiel plows ahead to flack for his Republicans friends’ latest effort to stifle your rights, this year’s House Bill 1094. Hamiel doesn’t mention the heart of the bill, the government registry and badges that the Republican-backed law will impose on circulators after 2020. He just sows the usual Republican fear of outsiders and pretends the onerous, volunteer-hamstringing requirements of this bad law are about “transparency”:

Last session, lawmakers tried to address a different concern: outside influence on initiated measures. HB1094 added some restrictions for petition circulators and ballot measure sponsors. The goal wasn’t to make it harder to get an initiated measure on the ballot, but instead to provide more information about those who were pushing an initiative. Were the petition organizers South Dakotans who simply wanted to change things in their state, or out-of-state activists who had little if any stake here but wanted to impose their ideas on us? [Hamiel, 2019.08.04]

Like HB 1094 sponsor Rep. Jon Hansen, Hamiel appears not to have read the actual lawsuit seeking to overturn HB 1094. In his essay, Hamiel is underscoring one of the fundamental reasons HB 1094 will be overturned in court: it targets disfavored speakers without advancing any compelling state interest. The state already obtains the information about residency that Hamiel says it needs, through the verification of residency every circulator must sign under oath on every sheet she circulates. HB 1094 only adds paperwork, bureaucracy, and delay that fruitlessly infringes on core political speech.

Hamiel acknowledges that the lawsuit has “some merit,” but tries to avoid those merits by citing the same kinds of tangential arguments that Rep. Hansen has offered for ignoring the Constitution and just doing what Republicans want:

The lawsuit may succeed but it’s not a certainty. Most South Dakotans – including me — don’t like out-of-state money influencing outcomes. While IM24 unsuccessfully tried to address that practice, HB1094 only attempts to cast a bright spotlight on the petition process and reveal the players.

As I re-read the law and took a closer look at the actual forms that petition circulators and sponsors would be required to fill out, it was apparent that they set a higher standard than before. But why not? Petitions will still be circulated. Signatures will still be collected. The difference is that voters will know a whole lot more about who’s doing the petitioning, and that would be a good thing [Hamiel, 2019.08.04].

What? Every petition circulator is already a South Dakotan. If any circulators aren’t South Dakotans, they are already subject to prosecution without HB 1094. And if they are South Dakotans, requiring them to register their names, home addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information in a government registry and requiring them to wear ID badges in public won’t tell Hamiel or anyone else one thing about the out-of-state money that may be backing the petitions they are circulating. It will only subject circulators to more risk of harassment, chill their participation in the process, needlessly delay and complicate real grassroots campaigns, and, contrary to Hamiel’s stated goals, increase the dominance of big-money players, the only ones who will be able to afford participation in the process Republicans are trying to make more costly and difficult.

Hamiel says he and Republicans have been trying to improve the initiative and referendum process. Hamiel’s bad arguments show the results of their proposals are exactly the opposite.


  1. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-08-07

    Hamiel says: “Most South Dakotans – including me — don’t like out-of-state money influencing outcomes.”

    The most odious of the petition-circulation laws that SD Voice is trying to overturn have already quadrupled or quintupled the cost-per-signature to qualify an issue for the ballot. That’s true whether or not the entire effort is completed by volunteers, and ballot issue efforts almost NEVER succeed with only volunteers.

    Therefore, Hamiel is obviously lying. Out-of-state money will be the ONLY money putting issues on the ballot if these laws remain in place. Just as out-of-state money has influenced the most odious of the laws Hamiel and his fellow-Taliban have passed for the past 20 years.

  2. Steve Pearson 2019-08-07

    It’s funny how this story, in many forms, keeps showing up and all of you trounce efforts by Republicans. But how about we put aside the false outcry. The issue is true and large liberal out of state effort organizations were trying and successfully getting ballot measures in SD. Those of you on the left are okay with that, you won’t admit it but you are. Just like all of you now feign outrage over the border and illegal crossings when before the Democrat side was the same view as Republicans. Now it’s because you want the voters in the country. You’ll deny and denigrate me but it is true and people know it. Your arguments are flawed because you lie about the truth of what you want.

  3. Donald Pay 2019-08-07

    Hamiel is just wrong.

    County requirements for signatures were proposed in the 1980s because an out-of-state corporation wanted a nuclear waste dump, and the people of the state said no. The supporters of that nuclear dump started the decades long yammering that it was too easy to get initiatives on the ballot. The refrain was picked up by the usual special interests who control the Legislature.

    Historically, Hamiel’s sorry arguments were always deployed by those who want to do away with the initiative because citizen participation interferes with out-of-state special interests or in-state special interests. The corrupt always want to keep the decent people from interfering with their corruption.

    I don’t know how it is now, but when I was collecting signatures in the 1980s and 90s, people went to the fairs and malls and courthouses BECAUSE those places attracted people from a wide geographical area. Far from disenfranchising rural communities, these are the places where rural folks go. We were surprised how many people from the surrounding communities came to Rapid City Thrlller games. Remember those? We also had a few people who collected signatures at sale barns. Is that rural enough for you?

    For most of our efforts, such as on nuclear and solid waste dumps and mining, and, of course, the corporate farming issue, rural folks in areas affected were thrilled that they could have the support of urban petition circulators. Without us, the state would be a leaking sieve of nuclear waste and New Jersey garbage. Far from disenfranchising rural folks, we urban circulators provided a megaphone for their concerns.

  4. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-08-07

    Steve Pearson, you’re a kick. You set up straw men, knock them over, then set up another.

    This is a truly brilliant straw man: “You’ll deny and denigrate me but it is true and people know it. Your arguments are flawed because you lie about the truth of what you want.”

    It is true and people know it. Those who claim they don’t “know it” are lying. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

  5. Donald Pay 2019-08-07

    I wanted to also stress other events that attracted rural folks that we petitioned: the Rapid City Stock Show, the Sioux Falls Farm Show, the Dakotafest (or whatever it or a similar ag oriented event in Mitchell was called back in the 1980s and 90s). Yeah, we had folks wherever we could get space, and we especially loved gathering the signatures of rural folks at these events. We did the Custer County Fair a number of times. We petitioned at a couple powwows, but we could have done more on the rez. So, yeah, reaching the rural community has always been a focus, far more of of focus than Hamiel realizes.

    The opposition to the geographical requirement came most prominently from the Secretaries of State. They said it would be a nightmare to have to determine that. Now they use a statistical test, rather than an actual count. For many counties a geographical test would be statistically suspect, because of the small populations.

    There is the constitutional questions, too, about whether petitioning for redress of grievances can be hamstrung by forcing a geographical test. This would require a Constitutional Amendment to change the language in the SD Constitution. It can’t be done by statute.

  6. mike from iowa 2019-08-07

    Now it’s because you want the voters in the country. You’ll deny and denigrate me but it is true and people know it.

    What a joke of a statement to make, especially since you have no proof of the veracity of yer statement, just fake noize/Drumpfian bs talking points to yap about.

  7. Donald Pay 2019-08-07

    So, the circulator registry and badge requirement could have been a good idea had it been done with some commonsense and some concern for constitutionality. In the 1990s I research this. I looked at the way the Constitution (both state and federal) guarantees the right to petition, and figured out that you can make it Constitutional by making it a voluntary registry that would accomplish a lot of the things that Hamiel is concerned about. The voluntary registry would be for South Dakota residents/registered voters only. The badge would be provided after completing a 1 hour training (now it could be provided via internet) on the do’s and don’ts of circulating a petition. You could even have a five minute test at the end to make sure people understood the legalities. A temporary badge could be provided right that day by allowing the person to print it out. A permanent badge could be provided with a small charge. The circulator registry, training and badge would apply to all circulators, including candidates. People would soon learn that those folks with a badge are serious about doing the job right. That wouldn’t preclude people without a badge from circulating, however, which preserves the constitutionality of petitioning for redress of grievances. I had two categories of circulators with different badges. One was for voluntary circulators another was for paid circulators.

  8. grudznick 2019-08-07

    Mr. Pay makes some sense here. grudznick will consider, although I like the South Dakota residents/registered voters only part of his idea.

  9. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-08-07

    Don Pay breathed a sigh of relief at the grudzfecal approval.

  10. Donald Pay 2019-08-07

    No, really, I do appreciate Grudz’ input. I think there is a middle position that will improve the initiative process for the people who want to use the process responsibly, provide a means to identify South Dakota volunteer circulators, have trained people collecting signatures, have the registry at the SOS office, reduce the unnecessary bureaucracy and make it constitutional. Since people do prefer this process to be run by South Dakotans as it was envisioned by the people who wrote the initiative into the Constitution, this process provides an incentive to get people trained, on the registry and wearing the badge through voluntary means. But it also, I think, would pass constitutional muster. At least it’s worth discussing.

  11. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-08-07

    Grudz will do ANYTHING for you now, Don.

  12. Debbo 2019-08-07

    The biggest give away that this is SDGOP BS is that it applies only to people’s petitions, not them. Their concern about outside $ and influence is only for people’s petitions, not them.

    The day the SDGOP introduces a bill in the lege to make individual legislators pay their own expenses for ALEC soirees, I’ll believe they really have a smidgen of genuine concern about outside $ in SD politics.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-08-07

    That’s a key point, Debbo. Republicans aren’t trying to shut down out-of-state influence from conservative groups. Republicans welcome their lobbyists, propose ALEC bills in the legislature, and take all sorts of out-of-state conservative money for their campaigns. Republicans offer zero bills to restrain that influence and in fact repeal the ballot measure we pass, IM 22, that would have imposed such restraints.

    Hamiel isn’t arguing for policies that constrain the influence of out-of-state groups. Hamiel is arguing for policies that constrain the rights of grassroots South Dakotans to participate directly in making laws.

  14. Donald Pay 2019-08-08

    No one should be surprised by the hypocrisy and corruption of the power elite of South Dakota. The Republican Party has been captive of out-of-state interests for decades. You even have various wings of the party controlled by different out-of-state, even foreign, interests. What is surprising is how long the decent people of South Dakota have turned a blind eye to the hypocrisy and corruption. When I was active in South Dakota, we fought one out-of-state interest after another. They all seemed to gain a foothold in the state power elite and then migrated into the Republican Party.

    Let’s examine one such effort. Ernst Buckley, who was Governor George Mickelson’s economic development director during the Lonetree fight, laid out for SDDS’s investors how they were supposed to land their mega dump for New Jersey’s garbage in South Dakota. Buckley sent a letter to SDDS investors to school these out-of-state entrepreneur’s in how the state actually worked. Buckley urged that the SDDS principles meet with people like Lien and Butler and develop relationships with the super elite business interests, who would then use their leverage to bring others on board. Eventually there would be enough support in the power elite, the backbone of the Republican Party, to get Mickelson to go along with the dump. Buckley even attended a meeting in Houston where all the SDDS investors were gathered to figure out how to make this dump in South Dakota happen.

    Now it wasn’t just meetings here, so this is what happened subsequently. SDDS bought equipment from Butler Machinery. Butler donated big bucks to the Republican Party. SDDS filed their application for a permit to construct a huge balefill, and it was to be decided at a hearing of the Board of Minerals and Environment. Mickelson appointed Butler to the Board of Minerals and Environment just before the hearing. SDDS hired Mike Rounds’ sister for public relations work. Butler refused to recuse himself from the BME hearing. Butler provided the deciding vote of the BME to give SDDS their initial license for the mega-dump. SDDS provided money to Republican candidates for the state legislature all through this controversy.

    But the decent people of South Dakota fought back against this corruption. One way they fought back was with an initiative. And taking away the right of South Dakota’s decent people to fight back against their corruption is what has driven the efforts of the state’s elite and the Republican Party to take away, bit by bit, the right to fight back against their corruption.

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