Statewide referendum petition drives may begin the moment the Legislature adjourns on Veto Day. Three days after that final gavel, no one appears to have filed a referendum petition with the Secretary of State to launch a petition drive, which tells me no one—not the transgender activists and allies who are positively outraged at House Bill 1080, South Dakota’s new ban on gender-affirming health care for young people; not the RVers and their mailbox vendors, who ought to be outraged at Senate Bill 139, which will likely result in their removal from South Dakota’s voter rolls—is going to use South Dakota’s cherished and valuable referendum process to challenge any of the bad laws signed by the Governor in the 2023 Session. After all, voters have only 90 days (well, technically, 91 days, thanks to the prescribed deadline’s falling on a Sunday) to collect and submit 17,509 signatures calling for suspension of and statewide vote upon the targeted bill. Referrers can hardly afford to waste a single day, let alone three, during that brief petition period.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that someone has started the referendum process and that we just don’t know about it because Secretary of State Monae Johnson is really bad at providing the public with up-to-date information. I was going to forward an interested voter the state’s information on how to circulate petitions, but I discovered that the Secretary of State’s Ballot Question Information webpage hasn’t been updated since 2021:
Nowhere does the Secretary of State’s website tell voters the deadline for 2023 referendum petitions (June 26, 5 p.m. Central) or the number of signatures required to refer a law to a statewide vote (17,509). The Ballot Question Information page still offers the Paid Petition Circulator Application, falsely indicating to paid circulators that they have to register and pay $20 to the state before exercising their Constitutional right to circulate a petition. (Paid circulators, you do not need to register or pay a fee to do collect signatures; the courts have said that registry and fee are unconstitutional.)
I’m not sure Secretary Johnson has even had time to look up from her election fraud fan-fiction since taking office in December to review, understand, and brief her dubious newbie staff on the rules for referenda and initiatives. She booted the most experienced staff in the elections office, so who knows what advice you’ll get if you call the Secretary about circulating a ballot question petition. (If you are launching a petition drive, let me know when and where, and let me know what guidance you are getting from the SOS!)
If you’re looking for reliable information on how to launch a referendum petition drive, see my up-to-date summary on the most important rules here.
The single most important thing is that you can’t wait: if you want to stop a bad new South Dakota law and put it to a statewide vote in 2024, you need to file your proposed petition with the Secretary of State and start collecting signatures immediately. If you plan to collect 17,509 valid voter signatures—and to get there, let’s add a 20% cushion, meaning you need a bare minimum of 21,000 signatures—and plunk them on Secretary Johnson’s desk by June 26, and if you can do that paperwork today and start petitioning tomorrow, Friday, March 31 (which, yeah, will bring another snowstorm, which makes for awful petitioning), you need to collect 250 signatures a day, every day, for the next 87 days.
And if you do submit a petition to the Secretary of State for approval for circulation, maybe mention to Secretary Johnson or election underlings Logan and Reggie that they need to update their Ballot Question Information webpage.