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Secretary of State Exceeds Ministerial Duties in Rejecting HJR 5003 Referendum Petition

One of the saddest things a passionate democrat can receive is a rejection letter from Kea Warne. Such was the bummer Rick Weiland experienced on St. Patrick’s Day when our Director of the Division of Elections turned down his petition to refer House Joint Resolution 5003:

Kea Warne, Secretary of State's Office, rejection letter to Rick Weiland, referendum sponsor, 2021.03.17.
Kea Warne, Secretary of State’s Office, rejection letter to Rick Weiland, referendum sponsor, 2021.03.17.

The Secretary of State’s office is feeling more than ministerial lately. It used to be that the Secretary of State’s Office simply did what the law told it to do and left the lawyering to the lawyers. But now all of Lee Schoenbeck’s agitation to make the Secretary of State a rogue judge appears to have gone to the office’s head. In this rejection letter, the Secretary of State’s Office renders a legal opinion, interpreting SDCL 2-1-3 and SDCL 2-1-3.1 to mean that the Secretary of State may choose not to do his duty to allow citizens to circulate a properly filed and facially complete petition.

The South Dakota Supreme Court has held that the Secretary of State’s duties in reviewing petitions, like duties of other executive officers of the state, are purely ministerial: if legally prescribed items are present, the Secretary approves the petition; if legally prescribed items are not present, the Secretary does not approve the petition; the Secretary is not empowered to “look under the hood”, investigate the items written on a petition, and make legal arguments about their sufficiency. Deeper questions about the legal status of items on a petition go to the courts, not Kea. In this case, she’s just a girl who can’t say no.


  1. drey samuelson 2021-03-24 16:37

    That was a LOL post, Cory–loved the allusion to Oklahoma! Let’s hope a challenge to this decision is successful!

  2. grudznick 2021-03-24 17:46

    So, you’re saying this Ms. Kea goes around kissin’ every gent that asks her?

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