New Minnehaha County auditor Leah Anderson is moving quickly to show that, for all of her Patriot Ripple posturing as a defender of voting rights is just a façade to hide her desire to insulate her party’s authoritarian rule from citizen participation. On Tuesday, Anderson proposed and the Minnehaha County Commission unanimously approved a new policy restricting petition activity at the Minnehaha County government complex in downtown Sioux Falls.
The Minnehaha County administration building and the court building, like courthouses around the state, is a popular spot for petition circulators collecting signatures for candidates and ballot questions. County buildings are among the few civic spaces remaining where we citizens can meet lots of our neighbors and have political conversations without being shooed away by the owners…since we are the owners. Petitioners usually stand just outside the entrances, but sometimes when the weather is bad, county officials have allowed circulators to conduct their political activity inside the building.
But in the name of “safety concerns” (really? When’s the last time you heard of any injury caused by a petition circulator?), Anderson has pushed a new policy deeming petition circulation “unnecessary disruption” and “inconvenience”, banning circulators from the vast majority of county property, and restricting circulators to two small and inconvenient rectangles away from the doors and closer to motor traffic:
This new restrictive policy pushes circulators and the people who stop to talk with them and sign petitions away from the shelter and shade of the buildings and closer to where cars may be zipping by, making political conversations harder to hear and more dangerous. The tiny zone on the west side moves circulators farther from the foot paths of many people headed toward the Admin building door, meaning circulators will have to shout more aggressively to get people’s attention, rather than being able to address everyone approaching the main door in a more normal, conversational tone, thus making it harder to catch sympathetic ears.
The new policy still allows petitioners to step inside in case of severe weather, but it forbids them from continuing to collect signatures or even talk to other citizens about any political issues unless they step back outside into the tempest.
Here’s anti-First Amendment auditor Leah Anderson’s memo recommending the policy from the May 2 agenda packet:
And here is the full text of the new policy clamping down on political activity at the county complex:
MINNEHAHA COUNTY LIMITED PUBLIC USE POLICY
Minnehaha County buildings exist to accommodate the business of county government, the courts, and the citizens of Minnehaha County. As such all buildings, adjacent grounds, sidewalks and parking facilities are nonpublic forums. While Minnehaha County appreciates those citizens who wish to take an active role in federal, state and local government decisions, county buildings must accommodate many people every day without any unnecessary delay or inconvenience.
In an effort to preserve public safety and provide citizens the opportunity to conduct their county business without unnecessary disruption or inconvenience while at the same time provide for locations from which individuals or groups (“Utilizers”) may circulate petitions, distribute information, and engage in other first amendment activities (“Political Activity”), the Minnehaha County Commission has approved the following “Limited Public Use Policy.”
Utilizers may only use specifically designated areas at select facilities on the Minnehaha County campus to conduct Political Activity. The select facilities are defined as the Minnehaha County Courthouse and the Minnehaha County Administration Building.
AREAS WHERE POLITICAL ACTIVITY IS PERMITTED
Minnehaha County Courthouse
Outside: Political Activity is allowed on the south sidewalk below the main entrance doors as specifically depicted on the attached color-coded map.
Minnehaha County Administration Building
Outside: Political Activity is allowed in the area described as that portion of the Administration Building parking lot located approximately twenty-five feet (25’) west of the main entrance doors as specifically depicted on the attached color- coded map.
Collectively these areas are hereinafter referred to as the “Designated Areas.”
CONDUCT DURING POLITICAL ACTIVITY
- Due to limited space and safety concerns within the Designated Areas, all Utilizers must check-in at the Minnehaha County Auditor’s office prior to conducting any Political Activity on the Minnehaha County campus to permit the placement of safety markers and to verify space availability within the Designated Areas.
- Utilizers using the Designated Areas must remain outside of county buildings and within the Designated Areas when conducting any Political Activity;
- Utilizers may approach individuals for the purpose of asking them to sign a petition provided the Utilizers are within the Designated Areas;
- Utilizers shall not, at any time, prevent access to county buildings or obstruct vehicular or pedestrian traffic within the parking area or as individuals enter or leave county buildings;
- Utilizers must conduct themselves in a polite, courteous and professional manner including, but not limited to, respecting an individuals’ right to decline to sign a petition;
- Utilizers must respect the rights of other individuals utilizing the Designated Areas including, but not limited to, petition circulators and other individuals engaged in Political Activity;
- Utilizers shall not follow any individual into any building or other area of the county campus where Political Activity is prohibited;
- Utilizers shall not leave any material unattended within the Designated Areas, including without limitation: petitions, signs, banners, pamphlets, tables, and chairs;
- Utilizers may seek refuge inside of the Administration Building in the event of severe weather provided that all Political Activity cease inside the Administration Building and such individuals do not impede those entering and leaving the building.
PLEASE NOTE: Pursuant to SDCL 12-18-3, all petition circulation and any other Political Activity must cease on the Minnehaha County campus during the period of absentee voting and on the day of the election as the County Administration Building is considered a polling place.
Note: Any questions regarding this policy should be directed to the Auditor’s Office (1st floor of the County Administration Building).
Note the part in line #1 about checking in. Essentially, the county is requiring citizens to register before engaging in political activity—not just petitioning, but any political discourse or, heavens forfend, protest. Such pre-registration hasn’t held up well in previous litigation.
This policy suggests that upon check-in, a county official will march out with the circulator to place safety cones on the allowed speaking space, as if to mark the circulator off like a toxic spill. And now that they’ve limited the space, the county appears to plan to restrict how many people can use that limited space. So one can envision that if Jon Hansen and his theocratic activists hurry to the courthouse each morning to ask for permission to hand out information opposing the abortion-rights initiative, then when initiative petitioners show up to circulate, auditor Anderson can tell the petitioners, “Sorry, our political activity zones are all full, so you can’t circulate petitions here today.”
South Dakota Republicans have been working for years to restrict petitioning and keep initiatives and referenda off the ballot. Now Minnehaha County’s Republican auditor has easily convinced the all-Republican Minnehaha County Commission to restrict petitioning on county property just as citizens are circulating petitions to put abortion rights on the 2024 ballot along with proposals for open primaries and a repeal of the food tax, all policies which the South Dakota Republican Party opposes. How convenient for Republicans, and how inconvenient for everyone else who’d like to have meaningful political conversations and votes on important issues.