Earlier this month, the Sixth Circuit Court in Pierre reversed Secretary of State Steve Barnett’s rejection of Justyn Hauck’s nominating petition and ordered the Secretary to certify Hauck’s candidacy for District 13 House. The court evidently accepted the South Dakota Democratic Party’s very close reading of candidate residency and voter registration requirements. The court also cut Hauck slack for courthouse coronavirus confusion:
The Judge further determined that even if there was a requirement that Hauck be registered to vote in the district he sought to run in, his actions would constitute substantial compliance with such a requirement. The Judge recognized that Hauck’s voter registration had not been updated prior to signing his declaration only because of circumstances arising from an unprecedented public health crisis. Moreover, the South Dakota Legislature has made a policy decision that “the laws of this state pertaining to primary elections shall be liberally construed so that the real will of the voters may not be defeated by a mere technicality.” The Secretary of State’s decision was ultimately incompatible with that legislative mandate [South Dakota Democratic Party, press release, 2020.05.06].
The South Dakota Republican Party, along with Valley Springs District 25 voter and Republican precinct committeeman candidate Jeff Lloyd Shawd, Jr., is now going to test whether independent District 25 Senate candidate Rick Knobe’s residential history is a mere technicality or whether doubt about where he lives is enough to get a judge to throw the former radio man and Sioux Falls mayor off the November ballot. I received this court filing yesterday evening:
Once we get to the right statutes, we find the argument, previewed back in April by the SDGOP’s spin blog, starts along the same lines as the argument that Secretary Barnett tried to use to keep Hauck off the ballot: Knobe signed his declaration of candidacy for District 25 Senate on April 13, but the state’s Voter Information Portal showed for days after that that Knobe was still registered in District 9.
However, it seems odd that, if Knobe indeed had not been registered in District 25 on April 13, Secretary Barnett did not give him the same heave-ho that he gave Hauck earlier in April. Perhaps Secretary Barnett held his fire pending the outcome of Hauck’s lawsuit… and it’s a good thing he did, since evidently the Sixth Circuit doesn’t believe residency and voter registration are tightly bound together.
But the Republican plaintiffs have more to go on than the voter registration info to which the Secretary of State’s investigatory scope is limited. The Republicans argue that Knobe still owns property in west Sioux Falls, out of District 25, and lists his candidacy address at the Retreat at Pointer’s Ridge, which is owned and inhabited by Knobe petition circulator Peter Klebanoff and Peter’s wife Deb.
On face, this brief fails to make its case. The evidence presented does not prove where Knobe actually resided, by statutory definition, when he signed his declaration of candidacy. Neither owning property in another town nor sharing an address with unrelated people disproves one’s residency. Last I heard, District 5 Senator Lee Schoenbeck owns property out in District 31; are Republicans going to sue to remove him from the District 5 ballot? Some 6,300 RVers have registered to vote at the same address in Box Elder; is the Republican Party ready to go to court and argue their residency is invalid?
Republicans will have to present more evidence to prove that Knobe is trying to pull a Heinemeyerian fast one by renting a cot in Baltic to establish voting residency in District 25 while maintaining actual residence in District 9. If they can dig up that evidence (watch for stake-outs at the driveways at Pointer’s Ridge and on West 15th!), they’ll have a better case than Secretary Barnett against Hauck, whose physical residency was not in question and whose delayed registration change was a mere technicality complicated by courthouse coronavirus measures. But the court will not throw out the legally expressed will of District 25 voters on the basis of the GOP’s so-far circumstantial evidence.