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Noem, Legislature Do Not Reduce Freedom of New Residents to Circulate Petitions

Senate Bill 139, which Governor Kristi Noem signed Tuesday, may disenfranchise tens of thousands of RV voters in South Dakota. But SB 139, which will become law on July 1, does not appear to impose any new restrictions on people who wish to circulate petitions for ballot questions.

I’ve been trying to figure out just what residency requirements people must satisfy to collect signatures for ballot question petitions. In 2020, the democracy-hating Republican Legislature passed Senate Bill 180 to tighten South Dakota’s residency requirement for circulators by requiring that they live in the state for at least 30 days before collecting signatures. The League of Women Voters challenged that 30-day requirement last year in court, and in January, the state agreed not to enforce that 30-day requirement, due to an adverse ruling in another lawsuit that enjoined every line of SB 180.

This year’s SB 139 applies a 30-day residency requirement to people registering to vote, but SB 139 does not mention petition circulators. The Legislature did not pass any bills addressing circulator residency, so theoretically, since Judge Lawrence Piersol’s ruling on 2020 SB 180 prevents enforcement of any of the petition circulation laws mentioned in that bill, including the circulator residency requirement, anyone can circulate a petition. Nebraskans or Minnesotans or maybe even Ukrainians or Mozambiquans larking through South Dakota for a weekend could collect signatures for a ballot measure.

Even if a court would find that the state can still enforce the pre-SB 180 assumption that circulators must be residents of South Dakota, SB 139 does not appear to re-impose the 30-day waiting period for new residents to circulate that the League of Women Voters challenged. Pre-SB 180, the law pointed to the definition of residency in SDCL 12-1-4. SB 139 does not put the 30-day waiting period into the definition of residency in SDCL 12-1-4. Under SB 139, newcomers are still residents the day they move here. SB 139 only says their residency has to last 30 days before they can register to vote. But no law says residents have to register to vote to circulate a petition.

So while I’m not ready to recommend that petition drivers put their ballot measures at risk by enlisting verifiable out-of-state residents to circulate petitions, the words in SB 139 and the words left out of SB 139 indicate that initiative and referendum sponsors may enlist newcomers to South Dakota to collect signatures on their very first day in South Dakota. So a cheer and a half for Governor Noem and the Legislature for protecting—or at least not messing with—the freedom of new South Dakotans to engage in civic life and exercise their cherished right of initiative and referendum.


  1. All Mammal 2023-03-24 06:50

    How in tar hill are they going to monitor new residents to definitively say when day one through 30 take place for their official voter eligibility residency in SD? More tyrannical government and more paperwork and more monitoring? SD freedom is a crock, man. If you help people and get them to like you, you don’t have to be afraid to let them vote. If you know you suck, you impose restrictions on voting.

  2. John 2023-03-24 08:30

    The legislature ignored the potential cost of their folly. It will require about a years worth of vehicle registrations, or the reduction thereof, for the revenue department to fully assess the impact on matching federal funds, highway and others, that tie population metrics (people/vehicles/etc.) to federal transfers to the state.
    The federal welfare state of South Dakota will roll back this legislative nonsense the second it hits the state budget.

  3. Donald Pay 2023-03-24 09:12

    Yeah, residency seems a rather hazy concept. In Wisconsin you need actual proof of residency. Voter registration requires a lease, bank statement, utility bill, etc., with your name and address on it. There’s a whole list of stuff you can use. It used to be that another voter could vouch for you, but I’m not sure if the Republicans got rid of that. For homeless folks, they prefer some social service agency certification. You can register at the polls here, which is nice. With provisional voting, they let people vote, but count the vote only if they provide the required documentation within a certain time frame.

    As far as collecting signatures, I’m not sure why anyone would need to use imported folks to collect signatures. If you do the grassroots organizing around an issue, you should have a good pool of volunteers to circulate a petition.

  4. Phil 2023-03-24 11:11

    Years ago I had been hanging around Hill City minding my own business for way too long and was approached by a Pennington County deputy who informed me that, as a new resident, it was time to get SD license plates. Since I was leaving the next day for work in another state, where I yearly spent most of the summer and never changed plates, I had a good laugh over it. I felt much more free and safe knowing local law enforcement had my 6 and was keeping track of who lived where.

  5. Richard Schriever 2023-03-24 13:20

    Phil, I continued to license my vehicles in SD for the first 7 years I lived in CA. The state of SD sent the plates and tags to my several different addresses in CA.

  6. Bob Newland 2023-03-24 19:08

    Donald, I agree with your purist motive: Get folks who join your thinking in advocacy of an issue, and signatures will appear. However, activism is expensive; every minute attending a fair to circulate a petition costs somebody money. I’ve found that when I place an ad to recruit circulators for a petition, a significant number of folks who respond have just moved here and can’t find a job, so they sign on, for a price, to get others to sign on. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a petition circulator whom I thought was advocating a position for money in which (s)he did not also believe.

  7. Vi Kingman 2023-03-25 15:10

    Does this apply to just new people registering to vote of does this wipe existing ones off the books and they have to reregister under the new law?

  8. John 2023-03-27 21:54

    New residents?
    Germany read the demographic pyramid and tea leaves. German’s are vastly increasing immigration in order to shore up their shrinking work force.
    The US needs to do the same. The US has a shortage of 400,000 workers in 2022 that increases annually to over 900,000 in 2038.

    Of course the SD governor and legislators have willful blindness that new immigrants will come from northern European nations – which will never occur because those nations provide healthcare, paid family leave, and higher secondary education results than does the US.

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