Greg Belfrage's interview with Rep. Steve Hickey this morning invites a number of conversations. Rep. Hickey said that citizens face a terrible time crunch in trying to review nominating petitions. This year, with partisan petitions due by March 25 and ballot-printing due by April 11 to allow early voting to commence April 18, citizens had a total of 16 days when they might file any sort of legal challenge against a petition they felt was invalid and have any chance of getting the Secretary of State or the courts to act.

On KELO-AM this morning, Rep. Hickey said we have two alternatives: shorten the nominating petition circulation period or shorten the early voting period. Rep. Hickey says he opposes the former and supports the latter.

Bob Mercer noted yesterday that shortening those periods isn't the only option; we could allow candidates to circulate petitions earlier, move the filing deadline earlier as well, and thus create a larger challenge window.

I see no harm in moving the petition start date earlier. If folks are ready to run, what's the harm in letting them circulate petitions during December? I do see some mild harm in requiring candidates to file earlier. Some candidates struggle with the decision to run. Some don't run into the right combination of circumstances and motivation to run until right before the deadline. Is it fair to require candidates to commit a month earlier?

I do agree that shortening the petition-circulating period is flat-out bad. Grassroots candidates need as much time as we can offer to get around their districts or around the state to contact voters, check their petitions, and make up for errors. Giving candidates less time to circulate only gives another advantage to the big-money candidates who can buy likely-voter lists and pay their circulators.

But what of shortening the early-voting period? I've expressed qualms about early voting before. Condensing the voting period puts candidates on a more even footing and reduces the number of voters who may cast their ballots before all information is available. But reducing the time for early voting inevitably means reducing the number of people who vote. Without some remedy to ensure that a shorter voting window does not disenfranchise lots of voters, I may have a hard time accepting a shorter voting time.

Let's also consider the extent of the ills each policy change would remedy. The circulation time affects every candidate. The early-voting time affects every voter. The petition challenge time in between affects only a small portion of candidates in the rare instances where attentive citizens identify flaws in ballots. That doesn't happen much, but when it does happen, a petition challenge affects the integrity of the petition, the ballot, and the whole electoral process, which is pretty darned important.

So readers, what change should we make in our electoral calendar? Or have we already struck the proper balance in the interests of candidates, voters, and electoral integrity?


Northern Plains News spotlights a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts measuring the quality of election administration in each state. Their findings offer solid metrics showing that the quality of election administration in South Dakota declined significantly from 2008 to 2012.

In 2008, under the Secretary of Stateship of Chris Nelson, South Dakota scored a 68% on Pew's Election Performance Index, ranking 17th nationwide. In 2010, Secretary Nelson got us up to a 75%, 6th best in the country.

Then came Secretary of State Jason Gant. He gave up whatever progress Nelson had made, dropping our EPI back to 69% and dropping our rank to 29th.

North Dakota and Minnesota ranked 1st and 2nd in 2012; the only state next to us that scored worse was Wyoming, which ranked 33rd. Even Illinois, with all its purported Chicago-style corruption, scored better than South Dakota in administering elections, showing great improvement from 2008 in gathering complete data, reducing barriers to voting for sick and disabled folks, and offering voter information lookup tools.

The Secretary of State isn't entirely to blame. South Dakotans in general haven't been exercising their civic duties in any exemplary fashion. Voter turnout in 2012 was 60.14% (27th in the nation) and voter registration was 83.14% (28th in the nation). We're rather middling in our urge to get out and vote. The Secretary can't make horses drink, but he could certainly set out more water troughs and keep them filled longer instead of trying to drain them.

Joel Arends, screen cap, KELO TV, 2014.04.07

Voters deserve perfection in elections, says Joel Arends.

The failed challenge to the Spellerberg pool vote in Sioux Falls offers some useful statements about the sanctity of the electoral process. Evidently everybody missed the fact that the municipal ballot measure had a typo, listing the pool build deadline as December 15 instead of December 31, 2015. Citizens represented by attorney Joel Arends went to court yesterday asking the city to either stop today's election or rush-print new ballots with the correct date. Judge Susan Sabers said the typo is an immaterial error in ballot text not required by law. The incorrect ballots remain in effect, and the public vote goes on.

Arends says the court got it wrong and has weakened the integrity of the election process statewide:

Arends says the government has to be held to a higher standard, especially when an election is on the line.

“We are opening a Pandora's Box in this state. What we're saying is, excusable neglect will be allowed to serve as an excuse for changing the dates on petitions and ballots,” said Arends [Jeff Rusack, "Pool Group Ballot Challenge Denied by Court," KDLT, 2014.04.07].

But reprinting ballots and/or rescheduling an election costs money, doesn't it? Did Arends and his clients really want to cost the city $60,000 to reschedule the election?

"The inconvenience to the city pales in comparison to the inconvenience of the integrity of our elections," Arends said [Ben Dunsmoor, "Judge Denies Outdoor Pool Legal Action," KELO TV, 2014.04.07].

Arends says that, even in failure, his group's challenge represents a valuable part of democracy:

Attorney Joel Arends, who represented Save Spellerberg, says Monday's proceeding is the perfect example of the right people have to challenge any wrong-doings they may notice.

...He also points out that the voters deserve perfection when it comes to elections, even when dealing with a typographical error.

"I think the City of Sioux Falls is on notice now that people aren't just going to take these things lying down. They're going to take to the courts, they're going to take to the media and say 'Look folks, we expect more,'" Arends said [Jared Ransom, "Spellerberg Court Ruling Favors City of Sioux Falls," KELO TV, 2014.04.07].

Arends is absolutely right. Voters deserve perfection when it comes to all aspects of the electoral process, from signing petitions to watchdogging the use of campaign funds to counting every vote. Citizens who challenge errors and violations on petitions and ballots are true patriots, fighting for the integrity of the law and democracy.


May it please the court of public opinion:

1. Petition circulators swear the following oath:

I, under oath, state that I circulated the above petition, that each signer personally signed this petition in my presence, and that either the signer or I added the printed name, the residence address of the signer, the date of signing, and the county of voter registration [emphasis mine; SDAR 05:02:08:00.03].

2. Annette Bosworth circulated a petition.

3. Bosworth swore the above oath on five petition sheets that include signatures dated between January 5 and January 15, 2014.

4. Between January 5 and Jaunary 15, 2014, Bosworth was out of the country on a medical mission trip to the Philippines.

5. The individuals listed as signing the petition sheets Bosworth circulated between January 5 and January 15, 2014, were not all in the Philippines.

6. Those individuals could not have signed this petition in Bosworth's presence.

7. "That's obviously a no-no," says Secretary of State Jason Gant.

8. That's perjury, says SDCL 22-29-1:

Any person who, having taken an oath to testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, before any competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any state or federal proceeding or action in which such an oath may by law be administered, states, intentionally and contrary to the oath, any material matter which the person knows to be false, is guilty of perjury [SDCL 22-29-1].

9. That's a Class 6 felony, says SDCL 22-29-5.

10. SDCL 12-4-18 removes felons from the voter registration rolls while they serve their sentences.

11. If sentenced for perjury for violating her circulator's oath, Annette Bosworth would not be a registered Republican. If her sentence ran through Election Day, she would not be able to vote for herself... but interestingly, felons can campaign for and serve in the United States Senate.


Today is the deadline for Democratic and Republican candidates to submit their nominating petitions to run for Legislature and other offices. With seven hours to go until the 5 p.m. CDT deadline to hand petitions to Secretary of State Jason Gant, here's the scorecard for the parties on filling Legislative slots, boiled down from the official SOS candidates list:

Senate House
Dem candidates 13 29
Dem primaries 0 2
Dem empty slots 22 43
GOP candidates 32 61
GOP primaries 4 6
GOP empty slots 8 19

So far Republicans have fielded 2.2 times as many candidates as Democrats. They also so far have 5 times more fun—i.e., primaries—than we Dems. Only two races have more Dems than seats:

  • House District 1, with newcomers Dustina Gill and Steven McCleery challenging incumbent Dennis Feickert;
  • House District 26A, one of our two single-seaters, with Joshua Wilson and Shawn Bordeaux, both of Mission, on the ballot.

Democrats have 62% of Legislative slots to fill; Republicans just 26%. Let's see more petitions!

And remember, even if you can't deliver those petitions to Secretary Gant in person today, you can mail them, but they have to be sent registered mail by 5 p.m. today!

Watch Secretary Gant's Twitter feed for down-to-the-wire updates today, as well as the official candidates list, which Sec. Gant updates daily and which should be finalized, barring challenges by the end of the week.

Update 11:47 CDT: Holy balls of liberalism! In the last half hour, Secretary Gant has tweeted the certification of petitions for eight Democratic candidates for Legislature and two Republicans. The Dems include Augustana economics professor Reynold Nesiba for District 13 Senate and Rochelle Hagel, sister of District 9 Rep. Paula Hawks, for District 33 House.

Update 21:40 CDT: Here's the above chart updated with Secretary Gant's approved candidate list as of end of business today:

Senate House Total
D-cand 22 43 65
D-primary 1 2 3
D-empty 14 29 51
R-cand 35 72 107
R-primary 4 8 12
R-empty 5 9 14

At our Saturday-night telephonic Madville Times editorial board meeting (how else would you run a blog?), Toby and I discussed House Bill 1219, a proposal to require towns and school districts to hold their elections in conjunction with the November general election.

SDCL 9-13-1 sets the default date for municipal elections on the second Tuesday in April, with the option for locals to set a different date. SDCL 13-7-10 allows school elections may take place between that second April Tuesday and the third June Tuesday. HB 1219 says nope, everybody votes for everybody on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.

HB 1219 demonstrates yet another instance where Republicans throw local control overboard when it conflicts with their agenda. Given the conservative pedigree of this bill—the prime sponsor is recklessly ALEC-happy Rep. Hal Wick, and the co-sponsors include many righter-than-right wingnuts—one might assume that HB 1219 is saying local election control is less important than fiscal restraint. Fewer election days mean fewer hours that locals have to pay election officials to watch, check, and count. Those savings could fund an additional day of snow-shoveling—rock on!

But could there be a political angle? Could radical righties like Rep. Jenna Haggar, Rep. Betty Olson, Senator R. Blake Curd, and Senator Ernie Otten see a way to boost their theocratic designs by tying local school board and city commission candidates to partisan general election fervor?

My blog co-author Toby Uecker suggests that folks trying to stack their local school boards with creationist fetus idolatrists wouldn't want the school board election to happen during the general. The smaller off-general elections have lower turnout. Their outcomes are influenced more by highly motivated ideological voters, as we see in the primaries. If you have a moonbat candidate and a hundred motivated friends, you're more likely to get your local Lyndon LaRouche elected to your school board than during a general election when a much larger number of sane voters will be paying attention.

Of course, attention is a precious resource during an election. Local candidates may have a hard time being heard above the din of Senate, House, and gubernatorial candidates and big ballot measures, not to mention their county commission candidates. Maybe HB 1219 has the good intention of increasing turnout and giving local officials a larger voter mandate... but is that mandate any larger if voters aren't really paying attention to those names at the bottom of the ballot?

More important complications for HB 1219 lie in the timing for both candidates and budgets. First, consider the campaign calendar in Madison. Madison school board and city commission candidates must submit their petitions by the last Friday of February. The campaign then lasts for about six weeks, until the April vote. Moving the local election onto the general ballot requires Madison school and city candidates to submit their petitions by the second Friday in August, so their names can be included on the general election ballot. HB 1219 thus doubles the length of the campaign. Local candidates aren't required to launch their campaigns early, but as a former school board candidate, I can attest that it's nice to keep the campaign season short for everyone.

HB 1219 also complicates government timing. We elect members of Congress and the Legislature in the fall, just prior to the beginnings of new sessions. Our current spring school board elections allow us to seat new board members in the summer, when school is out, at the beginning of the academic and fiscal year. In those cases, new members get to "start fresh." (For city councils, the election date arguably does not matter in the same way, since municipalities conduct business continuously.) HB 1219 doesn't mandate when local school boards have to seat their new members, though hanging onto ousted board members for an eight-month lame-duck period seems unwise. HB 1219 thus makes it likely we would see management churn in school districts while school is in session. Is that really the best time for changes at the top?

HB 1219 appears to have misassigned to House Education when it seems to fall more within the purview of House Local Government, which has tackled other bills affecting local elections. HB 1219 has yet to receive a hearing date.


The South Dakota Legislature continues to blur the lines defining who can vote where. Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Sen. Tim Begalka (R-4/Clear Lake), allows parents of open-enrolled students to vote in their chosen school's elections and to run for school board. Here's the relevant clause of the proposed legislation:

A parent who is a nonresident of a school district may vote in the nonresident school district election or may be a candidate for elective school board membership if the parent has two or more children who reside in the parent's household and the children attend the nonresident school district... [2014 Senate Bill 73].

Current statute requires that voters and candidates in school board elections be residents of the school district. They must either live in the district at least 30 days a year, be full-time university or vo-tech students who lived in the district right before leaving for school, or serve overseas in the military but maintain a home in the district.

Allowing all parents of children in a school a voice in managing the school seems reasonable. But Senator Begalka's two-child criterion is curious. Why disenfranchise a parent like me, who has just one child? I have difficulty thinking of a legal statute that will deny a voting right to a citizen based solely on their reproductivity.

Also problematic is the opening of South Dakota elections to out-of-state residents. Minnesotans, North Dakotans, and other near neighbors can open-enroll their children in our border schools. SB 73 is not specific to South Dakota residents. Is Secretary of State Jason Gant ready to do cross-state voter registration records? And are our neighboring states ready to cooperate with the bookkeeping our invitation to their residents to vote will require?

Senate Bill 73 is worth discussing, but it may require some serious amendment to pass constitutional and practical muster.


Here's the second proposal I've worked up from your suggestions for bills for the 2014 Legislative session. With Governor Dennis Daugaard now considering his seventh appointment for a Legislative vacancy, this bill seems particularly timely. I invite your questions, clarifications, amendments, and rebuttals!

Madville Times Bill 102

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to revise the process for filling vacancies in the South Dakota Legislature.


Section 1.1: If a vacancy occurs in the office of a senator or representative in the South Dakota Legislature, the Governor shall immediately appoint the losing candidate with the highest vote total from the immediately preceding general or special election from the district in which the vacancy has occurred.

Section 1.2: If that losing candidate is ineligible or unwilling to serve, the Governor shall appoint the losing candidate with the next highest vote total.

Section 1.3: If no losing general or special election candidate is available to serve, the Governor shall appoint the losing candidate with the highest vote total from the immediately preceding primary election.

Section 1.4: If no general, special, or primary candidate is available to serve, the seat remains vacant until an election can be held to fill the vacancy.

Section 2.1: If a vacancy occurs in the office of a senator or representative in the South Dakota Legislature, and if the Governor cannot appoint an eligible candidate under the above provisions,  candidates wishing to fill that vacancy may circulate nominating petitions for that vacancy. Candidates must submit nominating petitions to the Secretary of State within twenty days of the occurrence of the vacancy.

Section 2.2: If only one eligible candidate submits a valid nominating petition, that candidate automatically assumes the vacant seat for the remainder of the term.

Section 2.3: If more than one eligible candidate submits a valid nominating petition, an election will be held in the district to choose a legislator to fill the vacant seat for the remainder of the term.

Section 2.4: The Secretary of State, in consultation with local election officials, shall set a special election date not earlier than eighty but not later the ninety days after the occurrence of the vacancy.

Section 3: The legislator vacating the seat shall remit to the Secretary of State's office an amount equal to the amount of cash on hand reported on the legislator's last campaign finance statement filed with the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State shall use these remittances to reimburse local election boards for costs incurred in legislative special elections.


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