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Petition Circulator Registry, Badges, and Absurdly Early Deadline in Court Monday!

I return to the federal courthouse here in Aberdeen tomorrow to argue once again for your freedom of speech. At 10:30 a.m. CST, Judge Charles Kornmann will hear SD Voice and Cory Heidelberger vs. Kristi Noem, Jason Ravnsborg, and Steve Barnett, the second case of that name this year*, challenging the state’s unconstitutional restrictions on the initiative and referendum petition process.

To refresh your memories, I am challenging two main points of state petition law: first, 2019 House Bill 1094, Rep. Jon Hansen’s (R-25/Dell Rapids) circulator badge and registry scheme now mostly encapsulated in SDCL 2-1-1.3–, and the state’s requirement that initiative petitions be submitted a full year before the election at which you would get to vote on them.

The HB 1094 circulator registry and badging requirements are unconstitutional for several reasons:

  1. Requiring ballot question proponents to register with the state prior to circulating petitions and wear badges while circulating petitions, while imposing no such requirement on candidates for elected office, other political committees, or opponents of ballot measures, constitutes content-based discrimination against unflavored speakers—in this case, individuals whose liberal, democratic interests conflict with the conservative, anti-democratic preferences of the party in power.
  2. Requiring individuals to obtain government permission before circulating ballot question petitions is prior restraint of core political speech.
  3. Requiring petition circulators to submit personal contact information, including physical address, to a state database prior to circulating and to wear an identification badge while circulating violates the right of speakers to enjoy anonymity at the point of speaking, endangers circulators, and chills participation in core political speech.
  4. HB 1094 requires mere advocates of ballot question petitions—people who may never touch a petition sheet but who encourage others to sign petitions—to register as circulators and wear ID badges while so advocating. HB 1094 imposes no such requirement on people who dissuade others from signing petitions. This requirement is prior restraint and content-based discrimination.

The state’s requirement that initiative petitions be submitted at least twelve months before the general election also violates your constitutional right to participate in political speech. Denying citizens the opportunity to circulate initiative petitions during the election year denies them the opportunity to put petitions before the voters that deal directly with the overreach or underreach of an unresponsive Legislature while such Legislative errors are most timely and fresh in voters’ minds. Citizens wishing to change by initiative some error made by the Legislature in February 2020 must wait until November 2020 just to circulate their petition and until November 2022 to give South Dakotans a chance to vote on the issue.

The twelve-month deadline allows the Legislature, during the Session that intervenes between the petition deadline and the general election, to sabotage petitions by changing the law.

The state claims that the twelve-month deadline gives the Secretary of State much-needed time to handle all sorts of other election-year paperwork. However, at least seventeen other states accept initiative petitions during the election year. Our neighbors in North Dakota can circulate initiative petitions for the 2020 ballot until July 6, 2020. Coloradans have until August 3. Their Secretaries of State have at least as many important election duties to carry out in 2020 as ours, and they are able to process initiative petitions during the election year. In Colorado, initiative petitions require more seven times as many signatures as in South Dakota, yet the Colorado Secretary of State needs less than a quarter of the lead time that South Dakota’s Secretary of State claims to need to review all those petition signatures.

I’ll be busy today reviewing statutes, case law, news articles, and other materials relevant to this case. I take very seriously my duty to defend your rights and the legacy of Father Robert Haire, the Aberdeen priest and populist who helped us write those rights into our state constitution 121 years ago. If you’re in the neighborhood Monday morning, bundle up, shovel your walk, and come to the federal courthouse on 4th Avenue SE. Don’t bring your phone, your Apple Watch, or any other Web-enabled electronics: the marshals downstairs allow no such devices in the building.

  • SD Voice v. Noem I was the case I brought to federal court last spring to challenge Initiated Measure 24, former Speaker G. Mark Mickelson’s attempt to ban non-South Dakotans from contributing to ballot question campaigns. U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann ruled IM 24 unconstitutional.


  1. Mark 2019-12-08 09:23

    God Bless you Cory.
    Thank you for all you do.

  2. grudznick 2019-12-08 09:27

    Measures Initiated are insidious and should be outlawed. Take it through the legislatures, says grudznick.

  3. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-12-08 10:52

    God doesn’t care about Cory, initiatives or referenda. Grudzfeke is simply juvenile.

    However, Cory Alan Heidelberger is doing work that the rest of us should be supporting with torches and pitchforks.

  4. Kal Lis 2019-12-08 11:41

    Is this the same Grudz who says the legislatures are populated by those “insaner than most”?

    While I tend to agree with this Tommy Lee Jones sentiment, I trust the group think that descends on Pierre every January and February even less, especially with the Trumpist ascendancy. The Trumpists have an odd view about what constitutes the best people.

  5. Dave Baumeister 2019-12-08 11:41

    Stick it to them, Cory. If you can find that well-greased cylindrical object, use it wisely and where it will have the best effect!

  6. BRIAN GOCHAL 2019-12-08 12:15

    Thank you for standing up to the unconstitutional actions of the South Dakota GOP. At every turn it would seem this state is #morekentuckythankentucky

  7. Richard l Heule 2019-12-08 12:16

    Good Luck Sir.

  8. Dana P 2019-12-08 13:52

    Good luck, Cory! Go get ’em!

  9. Old Spec.5 2019-12-08 14:16

    Thanks Cory

  10. grudznick 2019-12-08 16:56

    Mr. Kallis, it is indeed I, grudznick #1, who does believe that the legislatures are full of people who are insaner than most. That is how they are dysfunctional, and easily controlled and manipulated by others. Surely, sir, you already understood this. But I understand your confusion of my comment with those of grudznick #3, who is more sympathetic with the legislatures and their dysfunctional staff that hangs on their ankles like a bag of cats on the way to the river.

  11. Debbo 2019-12-08 18:21

    Best of luck to you, Cory.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-12-09 16:59

    Judge Charles Kornmann said he will issue a ruling before he leaves for Florida on January 2. After not quite four hours of courtroom action, I have nine legal-size pages of notes (and that’s without taking any notes during my hour-plus on the stand). Today’s hearing will take me a while to process. Stay tuned!

  13. Peter Carrels 2019-12-09 21:51

    Like others on this board I am grateful for your work to preserve opportunities for citizens to shape their government and its laws. South Dakota once was a hotbed of grassroots efforts to advance our society.

  14. leslie 2019-12-11 18:44

    Great work Cory! Thank you

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