Press "Enter" to skip to content

Do We Need a Longer Petition Challenge Period?

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?


  1. Jaka 2014.04.16

    Laws were made with the supposition that government officials had the best interests of the voters/public as their primary focus. However, this year especially it has been shown that those in powerful positions in government (SOS,AG and perhaps even in the Judicial branch) are far more inclined to operate with only the best interests of the party in power (of course-the lengthy reign of the Republicans) as their primary concern. We have seen the dismissive actions of those whom citizens are to contact with concerns lately.....Haven't we? At least one rep, Hickey made an attempt. Where are all the other legislators?? Hiding under rocks?!!!

  2. mike from iowa 2014.04.16

    How about having the state's chief law enforcement officer do his job and examine possible criminal acts. He shouldn't need an engraved invitation to determine if possible criminal acts have occurred. The legislature can fix the rules on who is responsible for dealing with these issues instead of passing the buck between offices.

  3. Donald Pay 2014.04.16

    How about some real reform which gets rid of the root of the problem?

    First, end partisan control of elections. Remove elections from the Secretary of State's office and puts it into a non-partisan Board made up of retired judges.

    Second, make it easier for citizens to vote and to circulate and sign petitions, not harder. Consider reducing the number of signatures needed.

    Third, candidates who use paid circulators must disclose that fact prominently on the petition, and the paid petition circulator must display a badge that indicates who he's being paid by.

    Fourth, put all petitions on-line to allow crowd-sourced verification.

    Fifth, elect a real AG who is interested in fair elections.

  4. Jeff Barth 2014.04.16

    The number of required signatures could be reduced. Perhaps 250 would be enough.

    The current plan makes it tough for independents and for lesser known candidates. Instead of trying to prevent people from running for office the law should encourage them.

    Let people have a choice.

  5. Sue 2014.04.16

    Federal law requires that military and overseas civilian voters who have requested them be sent absentee ballots at least 45 days before election day. SD has chosen to use the same timeframe for all voters, unlike other states. I'm also concerned about voters making their choices and then having significant info about candidates/issues come out after they've voted.

  6. Dave Baumeister 2014.04.16

    I believe 45 days is way too long. I wrote an editorial about the problems of voting early. As it is, some claim the electorate is not educated enough to make good choices. The earlier people vote, the less of a chance they have to get educated. In the case of Annette Bosworth, every day people are NOT voting means a new scandal could be unearthed. (Pretty much what Sue just said.)

  7. bret clanton 2014.04.16

    Here is a completely off the wall idea. Why not do away with the petition process entirely?

  8. Curt 2014.04.16

    Is there a problem? I think there is. This year, the window (in some instances) was even narrower, because the SOS accepted candidate petitions until at least April 1. That leaves far too little time for potential challenges.
    I do NOT support an earlier filing deadline. It's too early as it is. Watch how many candidacies disappear between now and the Fall election, to say nothing of people who closed the door rather than walk through it in March. I would support allowing candidates to begin circulating petitions earlier. I see no harm in that, but it does not address the problem.
    It appears to me that the only logical solution is to shorten the early voting period. 45 days is just too much - except for deployed military personnel. 30 days should be plenty (but oh my, then people would start voting on SUNDAY!) So make it 28 days - 4 weeks. Basically, starting with the Native American Day holiday (that's still what we call it, isn't it?) and extending through the day preceding Election Day. It wouldn't be perfect, but I think it would be better.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.04.16

    Sue, that requirement on military voting does complicate things. I don't want any class of citizens to enjoy special voting privileges. Curt suggests leaving an exception for deployed military personnel: can we justify that exception? Why an exception for them and not for workers deployed overseas by private employers? Why not 45 days for people with a note from the doctor? Or, coming at the other side of Curt's suggestion, why not 28 days for everyone? Shouldn't e-voting make it possible to get overseas ballots faster?

    (Curt, I do like the symbolism of starting voting on Native American Day.)

  10. William Beal 2014.04.16

    I see no harm in moving the petition start date earlier, and I think there's bi-partisan support that could move that forward in the next session.

    It may, or may not, be the "ultimate solution" but is a big step in the right direction that I think could be achieved fairly easily.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.04.16

    William, does moving the petition circulation dates back (Dec 1 to Feb 25) pose any problem for legislators? On the one hand, the earlier date means they can get their petitions out of the way before session takes up all of their time. On the other hand, do legislators prefer to get through session to determine whether they want to run again?

  12. larry kurtz 2014.04.16

    bill beal, bill clay?

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.04.16

    Bret, if we didn't have the petition process, what would you put in its place? Anyone who wants to run just puts his name on the ballot? Unmarked write-in ballots?

    One thing I like about the conversation you guys are having here is that this question doesn't have to be partisan; we can focus on the basic principle of figuring out which policy promotes participation (do we all agree on that goal?). How do we make the petition process accessible to more candidates? How do we make petition review accessible to more citizens? And how do we make the ballot accessible to more voters? And then how we strike the right balance if we find those goals conflict?

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.04.16

    No, Larry, Bill Beal is more sensible and articulate than Bill Clay. :-D

  15. William Beal 2014.04.16

    Thanks Cory =|;D

  16. William Beal 2014.04.16

    BTW, I do think most legislators know well in advance of session as to whether or not, they'll be seeking an additional term. I'm more concerned with the time afforded legitimate challenges and believe that earlier dates for the petition process is achievable, without any obvious and serious unintended consequences.

  17. Roger Cornelius 2014.04.16

    Being an old campaign guy, I always go back to the basics, regardless of the law.
    After a candidates announcement, the next thing to be done is fill out the petition, it is the candidates responsibility to ensure that this is done properly and within the law. The campaign itself has the obligation to educate circulators on the process.
    If a candidate fails as miserably as Bosworth did in the elementary process, you have to ask yourself what other fundamental procedures will she neglect if she is elected to congress.
    Given the short challenge or appeal time for politicians it does seem like the current laws are written for incumbents.
    If you consider that just a number of years ago before we had immediate access to information, how difficult if not impossible it would have been to challenge a petition with such a short window of time.
    This is an easy fix, if they choose to fix it. Candidates and voters should have a full 30 days to challenge a petition and get a court ruling so that the SOS, AG and the courts can't hide behind a time factor.

  18. PNR 2014.04.16

    I do think 45 days for overseas voters (not restricted to military) is probably necessary. I know that I found being overseas, especially in combat theaters, vastly complicating participation. Granted, that was in 1996 (Sicily), '98 (Sicily), 2000 (Persian Gulf), and 2004 (Iraq), but even with e-voting, one cannot be sure when one will have access to internet/e-mail.

    And I think we need to have a petition process. If you can't get a couple hundred signatures for a petition to be on the ballot - or even a couple thousand for a state-wide office - the likelihood of your getting enough votes to win is near zero. Then having the name on the ballot is just a vanity fair and you're wasting voters' time and taxpayers' money.

    So I think the best solution is to put the petition gathering time frame a bit earlier.

    But we also need to specify who is responsible for prosecution in the event petitions are fraudulent. I can honestly believe nobody drafting the original law thought something akin to this would happen. It has now, so eliminate the confusion, clarify who's responsible for what, and move on. We may not be able to stop it from happening once, but it would be good if we could stop it from happening twice.

  19. bret clanton 2014.04.16

    No petitions just go register. Same time frames. I would think we can all agree that the petition process ( at least in South Dakota ) is somewhat of a travesty and meaningless

  20. William Beal 2014.04.16

    "I can honestly believe nobody drafting the original law thought something akin to this would happen."

    I think that's exactly right! This is not something rational people would have considered likely to happen.

    Now that it has, let's get it addressed.

  21. Douglas Wiken 2014.04.16

    Perhaps the election itself should be delayed to give more time for all processes. Military should vote online.

  22. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.04.16

    Very little campaigning and events are done after the June primary until the State Fair. Then there is another full two months until the General election. How about having the primaries, (since we aren't Iowa and never have any effect on the Presidential nominating anyway) in August or even right after the State Fair?

    I still have some major concerns about the way these nominating petitions are handled anyway. Why is it beholden on the electorate to examine the petitions to determine that they are legit? Why is that not up to the County auditors office? Also in the case of the Boz filing petitions under her professional name and she is not even registered under that name, (not sure if she is registered under Haber) I would think that the County auditor would also be responsible to disqualify her as we have no one on our rolls by that name. If the petitions, and I am not just talking about Dr Bosworth, are not examined thoroughly, what is the use of having petitions in the first place and or having a designated number of signatures to qualify for the ballot?

    Cory, You wrote, "reduces the number of voters who may cast their ballots before all information is available." I ran into an old guy, (I'm 72) yesterday who said that he was really upset that Pressler is running. When I asked him why, he said that he was worried that he would split the vote and that a Democrat might get in. Gosh, whatever happened to vote for the best person for the job? Why is it that the party always comes first, and no place more so than in South Dakota the last ten years?

  23. Troy 2014.04.16

    We should print ballots 30 days before the election giving everyone to challenge.

  24. David Newquist 2014.04.17

    Premature posting. Type "Bosworth" in the search window. There are two files.

  25. Curt 2014.04.17

    Lanny's suggestion of a late Primary - perhaps early Sept - is intriguing.
    I cannot support an earlier filing deadline. As I said above, the current deadline falling before April Fool's Day is already too early.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.04.17

    A later primary—why not? Long campaigns are a pain in everyone's keester, except maybe for us bloggers and advertisers who like to see the pot boiling as often as possible. Having the primary on Labor Day would bring more revenue to the State Fair and county dairs, as more primary candidates would rent booths and buy corndogs to feed their staffs!

    A later primary might help reduce voter fatigue, if anyone thinks that's a problem. So let's take Lanny's and Curt's points and offer a calendar:

    March 15 to May 31: petition circulation time.
    June 1 to July 14: petition challenge/review time (with scans of every petition posted online for free access to every interested citizen).
    July 15: ballots printed and shipped to county auditors.
    July 18 to August 18: early voting
    August 19: primary election day
    August 20 to September 30: primary ballot challenge/review period
    October 1: general election ballots printed and shipped to county auditors
    Native American Day to first post-Monday Tuesday of November: General Election Day.

    We can adjust that whole calendar to first Mondays/Tuesdays and such. Workable? Properly balancing all interests?

  27. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.04.17

    Cory, I am not sure if it would be enough time, but the only thing I would change is for the start of petition circulating to April 1st to give those serving in the legislature, equal time to do that job, but still concentrate on their job in the legislature.

  28. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.04.17

    Lanny, I'm o.k. with doing Legislators that favor. Let them concentrate, don't officially start the campaign until session is done.

Comments are closed.