Federal Judge Finds Petition Circulator Law Unconstitutional


ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) – A federal judge has ruled a new South Dakota law requiring ballot petition circulators to register and be included in a directory is unconstitutional because it violates First Amendment free speech rights. State officials have not said if they intend to appeal the ruling.

The law, scheduled to take effect in July, requires petition circulators to apply with the secretary of state for an identification number, provide personal information and be included in a directory.

The grassroots ballot question committee SD Voice filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the law and a one-day trial was held in Aberdeen before U-S District Judge Charles Komann last month.

Attorneys for the state said the law is aimed at preventing fraud, but SD Voice argued it creates burdensome regulations that make it much harder for the average citizen to get an initiative on the ballot, and that it discriminates based on viewpoint, since it only applies to petition proponents.

Judge Komman, in a 15-page ruling released Thursday, agreed with the opponents – calling the discrimination “unmistakable. If you favor the status quo and oppose change, you are not regulated. If you favor change of one sort or another, you are extensively regulated.”

SD Voice spokesman Cory Heidelberger says he was thrilled with the ruling and calls it a victory for the constitutional rights of South Dakotans.