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League of Woman Voters files lawsuit over South Dakota petition circulation law

This article was originally published by Dakota News Now.

Back in 2015, there was a concern about hired employees brought to the state and paid to collect petition signatures. Back then, anyone over 18 with an ‘intent’ to live in the state could collect signatures.

In 2020 Senate Bill 180 set out to fix what some saw as a problem. The current law requires a 30-day residency requirement for ballot initiative signature collection.

For some, the new law brought more problems than it solved. Amy Scott-Stolz, a spokesperson for the League of Women Voters of South Dakota, says their organization filed a lawsuit because they believed the law put up unnecessary barriers.

“Residents that come to our state can vote within those 30 days, but they can’t participate in the ballot initiative process,” said Scott-Stoltz.

Previous lawsuits from other organizations have already struck down other portions of the law, such as those circulating petitions being required to wear badges.

“And it’s a matter of your first amendment rights, your free speech, and so limiting it in this way is we feel unconstitutional,” said Scott-Stoltz.

And what about out-of-state organizations alleged to bus in employees to gather signatures on a petition? Stoltz says no matter who puts the petition in front of us; we have a responsibility too.

“So if you’re unsure of what you’re signing, certainly open it up and take a look at it, and the full wording will be there,” said Scott-Stoltz.

Co-sponsor of the bill Senator Jim Stalzer says he sees a benefit in vetting those who are gathering signatures. “I hope the law stands to maintain the integrity of the initiated measure process, as there have been out-of-state collector violations of the law in the past,” said Stalzer.

Although it is legal to pay someone to gather signatures for a petition, they can not be paid per signature or be given a quota. A violation is a class two misdemeanor.

No person may employ, reward, or compensate any person to circulate a petition for an initiated measure, referred law, or proposed amendment to the South Dakota Constitution based on the number of registered voters who signed the petition. Nothing in this section prohibits any person from employing a petition circulator based on one of the following practices:

(1) Paying an hourly wage or salary;

(2) Establishing either express or implied minimum signature requirements for the petition circulator;

(3) Terminating the petition circulator’s employment, if the petition circulator fails to meet certain productivity requirements; and

(4) Paying discretionary bonuses based on reliability, longevity, and productivity.

Any violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor.