Posts like these are probably why Jason doesn't return my calls....
Remember when Secretary of State Jason Gant said it's not his job to make sure elections run smoothly? Secretary Gant now offers a ridiculous excuse for failing to ensure the integrity of elections. Following the arrests of two former U.S. Senate candidates for filing bogus petitions, Secretary Gant tells us the law prevents him from checking the legitimacy of petition signatures:
Gant said all he can look at on candidates' petitions is whether they're complete -- rejecting signatures only for missing crucial information. It's only if an outside party challenges a candidate's nominating petitions that Gant can consider such major facts as whether a petition signer is a registered voter -- or even exists.
For example, Gant initially approved nominating petitions from Clayton Walker. Three weeks later he ruled that they contained almost 2,000 errors, including possibly hundreds of voters who don't actually exist.
Even if he had noticed the problems on Walker's petitions sooner, Gant said he couldn't have done anything about them until a challenge was filed.
"State law really puts all the responsibility to, as state law says, an interested party to go through and try and challenge any of those signature lines," Gant said [David Montgomery, "Gant: Officials Not Allowed to Check Petition Accuracy," Political Smokeout, 2014.06.05].
Once again, Secretary Gant misreads South Dakota law to excuse his own laziness. Let's review South Dakota Administrative Rule 05:02:08:00, which lays out the guidelines for accepting petitions:
When a petition is presented for filing, the person or governing board authorized to accept the petition for filing shall determine if it meets the following requirements for acceptance:
- The petition is in the form required by this chapter;
- The petition contains the minimum number of valid signatures, counted according to § 5:02:08:00.01. One or more invalid signatures on a petition section do not disallow other valid signatures on the section;
- Each section of the petition contains an identical heading and is verified by the circulator. The circulator may add the addresses of the petitioners and the dates of signing before completing the verification. The circulator may also add the printed name of the signer and the county of voter registration. Residence addresses may be abbreviated. The verification was completed and signed before an officer authorized to administer oaths;
- The declaration of candidacy contains the original signature of the candidate. Additional sections may have an original or photocopied signature of the candidate;
- If a petition is for a ballot question to be voted on statewide, the signatures were obtained after a copy of the text of the petition was filed with the secretary of state;
- The governing board or person authorized by statute to accept the petition shall, if requested, allow a petition circulator the opportunity to add missing information on the signature lines or circulator's verification on his or her petition provided the filing deadline has not passed; and
- Following the presentation of the petition for filing, names may not be removed from the petition.
Except for petitions to nominate candidates for school boards, the person who is authorized to accept petitions for filing need not check for voter registration of the signers. Petitions containing signatures in excess of the minimum number may be filed, but the excess signatures will be disregarded [SDAR 05:02:08:00].
Legal eagles, feel free to correct me. But the operative phrase here is "need not." This rule does not tie Secretary Gant's hands. It leaves them free to pick up the voter registration list or to leave it on the shelf. If Gant sees Dusty Cover, Cherry Drop, and Jeff Bridges on a petition, it's his choice whether to listen to his madly pinging B.S. detector and check the voter rolls or let the petition slide and pass the burden of investigation onto citizens, who have no way of knowing such evidence of crime against election law exists without paying the Secretary's office hundreds of dollars to obtain the petition and thousands of dollars to obtain a reliable voter registration list.
Only in Jason Gant's world do citizens have to pay Jason Gant so they can do Jason Gant's job.
Secretary Gant does not need to change the law to do his job. But if he's going to shirk and say citizens are the only ones who can do his job, he needs to change his office practices and make all petitions and voter registration lists public documents, available online, free of charge so we can all get that job done.