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Medicaid, Redistricting Initiatives Paying Circulators $15/Hour; Pot Petitioners Offer $22/Hour

If you’re looking for a quick two weeks of work, the four committees circulating ballot question initiatives would be happy to put you to work. From today until November 8, you can make a little Christmas-shopping cash (and with coronavirus and the economic recovery still kinking the supply chain, you might want to get that shopping done before Thanksgiving) and serve the cause of democracy. You just need to be an 18-year-old South Dakota resident* who likes interacting with the public and who deeply respects the law, good public policy, and the right to vote.

You can talk to three of those potential employers at this afternoon’s Democracy Rally in Sioux Falls. According to the petition circulator handouts posted on the Secretary of State’s ballot question website, the two earliest entrants in the field, Dakotans for Health with its Medicaid expansion petition and Drawn Together SD with its anti-gerrymandering petition, are offering paid circulators $15 an hour. Latecomer South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, which waited until October 12 to start circulating its marijuana legalization initiative, is offering $22 an hour.

The marijuana industry has a product to sell, so apparently it can tap bigger cash reserves to pay 47% higher wages for its last-minute petition drive. No one stands to make money from independent redistricting, so that petition drive has to rely on the goodness of donors and circulators interested purely in better government.

Medicaid expansion could arouse the interest of some big-money players, like the medical-industrial complex that stands to benefit from more federal support for health care costs. But South Dakota’s hospitals have thrown their weight behind an alternative Medicaid expansion petition that they began circulating on July 2, and they are paying their circulators the same as Dakotans for Health, $15 an hour.

Circulating petitions isn’t easy work. You’re on your feet most of the time. You’ll probably be outdoors, and the extended forecast says Sioux Falls will see brisk 40s and 50s for the rest of this circulating season. You have to maintain a positive, outgoing, inviting attitude in the face of lots of rejection. (Even the best circulators with the best petitions will encounter a lot of people who simply don’t have time or the desire to be bothered by any stranger and who will walk on by without a word.) You have to know the petition well enough to answer questions, but you have to keep your answers short and sweet so you can get the voter’s signature and move on to your next potential signer. And you must know and follow the laws governing petitions without deviation.

Circulating requires a lot of effort, but so does democracy in general. Sign on to circulate initiative petitions this week and next, and you can put some cash in your pocket, but more importantly, you can empower your neighbors to exercise their right to vote on important public policy at next year’s general election.

*Circulator residency: 2020 Senate Bill 180 required petition circulators to reside in South Dakota for at least 30 days prior to collecting signatures on petitions. However, in his ruling that 2020 SB 180’s paid circulator registry and badging requirements were unconstitutional, Judge Lawrence Piersol enjoined the entire bill, thus striking the 30-day residency requirement. Earlier this month, the Eighth Circuit rejected the state’s motion to stay that injunction pending its appeal. Thus, the residency requirement for petition circulators [SDCL 12-1-3(11)] remains the same as that for voters [SDCL 12-1-4], the vague standard of fixing one’s habitation and intending to return that allows itinerant RVers to fabricate residency in South Dakota by renting a mailbox and camping here once a year.


  1. Donald Pay 2021-10-24

    My view on paying petition circulators is that it represents a failure to organize a grassroots effort. Yes, it’s legal, but it’s not “the South Dakota way” to do things. Maybe it’s the South Dakota way now that the Republicans have screwed up the initiative process with all the up-front bureaucracy, but it’s certainly not the way groups I was associated with in the 1970-2000 era did things.

    I prefer the old way, when it was just dedicated volunteers getting an occasional free cup of coffee or a hot lunch after a morning of standing outside the Pennington County courthouse, but I would still sign those initiative petitions if I was in South Dakota.

  2. Mark Anderson 2021-10-24

    Mary Jane will always reward you more than Medicaid. Its a Lift to Experience, these are the days. Medicaid is better than Mawd or Chip but it’s hard to take care of the poor in a red state isn’t it? It’s a covetous situation.

  3. Porter Lansing 2021-10-24

    Get Over It!

    The petition circulator has zero to do with the petition’s position.

    Circulating petitions is a job not a political statement.

    Conflating the two is counter productive but then, progress isn’t well received in the “Backwater State of Yesteryear”, is it?

  4. Donald Pay 2021-10-24

    Porter, I just disagree. Your position is that of the elitist contingent in the Republican Party, who think everything should be run by the moneyboys. They moneyboys buy the Legislature, so naturally they set things up so the moneyboys control the initiative process, too. Not only did the moneyboys buy the SD Legislature to destroy the grassroots initiative process through bureaucracy, but they also purchased the US Supreme Court, which equates money to “speech.” So, now the little groups with good ideas can’t afford all this up-front bureaucracy and has to compete against the moneyboys who buy up petition circulators. Pretty soon the moneyboys will be offering double the money for people NOT to collect signatures on initiative petitions. I’m surprised that hasn’t happened yet.

    I always thought the marketplace of ideas was a little different from, oh, the used car market. For most of South Dakota history, initiatives were brought by groups of grassroots citizens with an idea. Generally, they tried to pass the idea through the Legislative route first and sometimes second and third. If they didn’t have success, they decided to use the initiative. Gathering signatures on initiatives was meant to be, in your words, “a political statement,” not some exchange of money for a few weeks work.

    I understand we now live in a time when “speech” is given a price, like one of those overpriced rooms at the Trump Motel, which is by the swamp down the hill from the Hotel California. That where the moneyboys are right now. Go git your money, Porter.

  5. Porter Lansing 2021-10-24

    You needn’t tell me my position.
    I’m fully aware of what I think and won’t comment on what you personally “need” from the petition process..
    A petition is simply an invitation to vote on an issue.
    Nothing more.
    Almost every issue deserves to be voted on, in my opinion.
    I vote by mail, as do all Coloradoans have the ballot mailed to them.
    Time spent voting is of no matter to me.
    I have unlimited time to research candidate’s positions and the consequences of issues, on the ballot.
    The argument SDGOP has about how long it takes at the polls means little when voting is done slowly and methodically, by mail.

  6. Jake 2021-10-24

    Don and Porter-you BOTH have equally legit points of view in my opinion. But you share my view of the SD GOP in our state with its autocratic viewpoint on governing; ie., that it is THEY, not the people, in whom the power resides. It has just ‘gone to their heads’. Luckily for them, so far, the bitter taste of defeat hasn’t been a jolt to their ego for some time. But just like their hero, trump, it WILL come to them in its own time. I just wonder if our Democracy will survive the current stresses the former president (and his followers-of which SD has so many) are so bent on changing election laws to enable them to “WIN” elections in the future the way Putin “WINS” in Russia!

    Sadly, the Republican party as a whole are reacting to the FACT that they haven’t won an elction but once in 8 presidential race elections, so they’ve decided under trump’s watch to cheat from now on……

  7. Yvonne 2021-10-24

    Now this is good media coverage…educating the public about a portion of what is involved in petition circulating(pay, responsibilities, etc.) without any negativity directed at anyone or political party.
    I’m with Donald P as to grassroots marches, boycotts, picketing but by those with level heads and common sense in keeping with the purpose intended; and yes, the initiative process as well.
    Alot can be accomplished with peaceful individuals standing up for a democracy that has been waning for years—brought about by both political parties. Remain civil. It goes along way.

  8. Donald Pay 2021-10-24

    Porter, yes, a petition is an invitation to vote on any issue. But it’s really much more than that. In one case, citizens organize because they feel they have valid concerns which the Legislature refuses to address adequately. They draw up their initiative and they volunteer time to gather signatures. In the other case, someone with wealth behind them decides to draw up an initiative. That person buys some uninterested folks at the unemployment agencies to gather signatures.

    I see quite a difference there, Porter. In the first case, the initiative comes from grassroots citizens who organize to bring their issue forward. It comes openly and honestly from the community. In the second case, the agenda behind the initiative is obscure and there is little, if any, community buy-in. It’s just a market transaction.

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