Senator Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) goes big… on petition font size. Following up on the threat he made in the Aberdeen paper several days ago, Senator Novstrup has proposed Senate Bill 77, a relatively simple measure that would require all petitions for initiated laws to be printed in at least 12-point font.
SB 77 leaves limits on the size of petition sheets to the Board of Elections, which thus far has, sensibly and mercifully, not exercised its rule-making authority on that vital point of petition law. But Novstrup’s 12-point-font rule would effectively limit the scope of initiated laws that South Dakotans may place on the ballot. As I explained in my typographical analysis on January 10, creating a legal and legible initiative petition on practical 8.5-by-11-inch paper with the vital legislative text in 11-point font and the state’s boilerplate and signature lines in smaller fonts allows petitioners to fit around 450 words onto a petition. The relatively simple SB 77, merely adding twelve words and striking four, requires 384 words of legal language to restate the one statute on initiated laws that it amends. If citizens wanted to propose an initiative that would extend the 12-point font rule to petitions for initiated amendments and referenda (Al left those out, because he really doesn’t understand the details or practical workings of petition law… but now that I’ve mentioned it, you can bet he’ll bring an amendment to that effect in Senate State Affairs), they’d have to print over 1,000 words of legal language on their petitions, which at 12-point in Times New Roman, with no squeezing fonts or other typographical tricks would fill a page and a half on standard letter paper, leaving insufficient room for instructions, signatures, notary seal, and other petition requirements.
Requiring any minimum font size on petitions thus effectively says South Dakotans could only petition for laws that involve short, simple statutes and would hamstring their ability to address detailed policy issues at the polls.
As far as I can tell, state law does not prescribe specific font sizes for any other document. Senate Bill 77 doesn’t ask for minimum petition sizes on candidate petitions, subpoenas, contracts, safety labels on go-karts, or any other important public documents. Senator Novstrup is thus waging a unique bureaucratic attack on one specific process: our constitutional right to make laws ourselves when the Legislature fails to do its job.
Senator Novstrup doesn’t want to help you read petitions; he wants to make sure you have fewer petitions to read. He doesn’t want citizens on the street making laws; he wants to secure that privilege to himself.
Come on, Legislature: trust the voters. Believe that if regular voters on the street can’t read a petition, they won’t sign it. Trust us to recognize good laws—and good fonts—when we see them. We don’t need further Legislative meddling in the initiative process that we South Dakotans pioneered and have responsibly exercised for over a century.