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Do Independents Need Fairer Ballot Access Laws?

My latest column for South Dakota Magazine discusses the disadvantages Independents face in getting on the ballot in South Dakota. I propose a modest package of reforms to our electoral laws to treat Independents more fairly:

  1. Establish a uniform filing deadline for all Independent candidates for statewide and legislative offices: the last Tuesday in July.
  2. Require political parties to submit their convention nominees by the last Tuesday in June.
  3. Reduce the Independent nominating signature requirement to the either the lower or the average of the major party signature requirements.
  4. For offices like attorney general, for which partisan candidates are nominated by convention rather than petition, set the Independent nominating signature requirement equal to the number of voting delegates attending the largest party convention in the state [Cory Allen Heidelberger, "Jonesing for Indies," South Dakota Magazine, 2014.07.09].

The odd events of this year's petition season already have legislators, the press, and pundits talking about shaking up our election laws during the 2015 Legislative session. Do we need to include measures to give Indies a fairer shake at ballot access as well?


  1. Kurt Evans 2014.07.10

    On a related note, the South Dakota Libertarian Party is planning to hold our convention on August 9. The state chair is required to notify the secretary of state 30 days in advance (today), and Gant has apparently left the office for the rest of the afternoon.

    It almost seems like this whole election cycle is under some kind of weird voodoo hex or something.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.07.10

    Does the Libertarian Party have any candidates to nominate? What is the purpose of this convention?

    I have called the SOS office often this year. Secretary Gant has never been in to take my call, and he has never returned a call from me. Having the Secretary of State available to answer questions would be another useful step to help Independents access the ballot.

  3. Roger Cornelius 2014.07.10

    Does Gant have to personally accept the notification or can the SOS receive it and post the date it was received?

  4. Rorschach 2014.07.10

    Does the Secretary of State even keep office hours anymore? He moved out of Pierre back to Sioux Falls some time ago. I question whether he's even in the office anymore.

    But on the topic of the post. Yes, people running as independents need increased ballot access. Current laws are designed to keep them out.

    Why should an independent statewide candidate have to get 1,200 more signatures than a Republican or 1,950 more signatures than a Democrat to get on the ballot? Dem and Repub candidates have to get on their petitions signatures representing 1% of the votes of their last governor candidate. Independents need to get petition signatures representing 1% of the votes for all governor candidates combined! If that is the standard, maybe independents should only have to get signatures representing 1% of the votes for the last independent governor candidate.

  5. Donald Pay 2014.07.10

    Yes, have a fairer number but vastly increase them for parties and independents. I would raise the signature requirement for candidates to make it equivalent to the requirement for initiatives and referenda. The small number of signatures encourages frauds and outright nutcases to qualify.

    Candidates should have to get signatures equivalent to 5% percent of the vote. Political hacks (Joel Rosenthal is the latest) like to complain about how easy it is to get signatures these days, and want to increase the signatures requirements for initiatives and referenda while leaving candidate signature requirements the same. This is typical nonsense from Republicans, who couldn't get those numbers of signatures on any of their candidates' petitions.

  6. Roger Cornelius 2014.07.10

    You hear people say they are independents, I've also heard many say they are members of the Independent Party, which I take does not exist in South Dakota.

    If independents did form their own party and have it legally recognized as such, would they still be able to vote for Republican, Democrats or other political parties in the primary and general election? Or, would they have to actually put up independent party candidates?

  7. Tara Volesky 2014.07.10

    Independents don't want to belong to a party or follow a party platform, that's why they are Independent.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.07.10

    Roger, if a group of currently non-aligned voters formed a new party, they would no longer be Independents. They could only vote in their own primary, not in the Democratic primary, even if they oxymoronically called themselves "The Independent Party."

    Donald, I'm torn. I'm good with fairness, equalizing the requirements for partisan and independent candidates. But do we really need to make it harder for anyone to get on the ballot, even the nutcases? The current signature thresholds for partisan candidates seems to have done a reasonable job of weeding out the fringe element... and in the cases of Annette Bosworth and Charles Gonyo, the voters have handled the rest of the weeding.

  9. grudznick 2014.07.10

    Ms. Volesky, I am becoming enamored of your Mr. Myers. Dump that Hubbelcraft and you be on the ticket with him!

  10. Donald Pay 2014.07.10

    Cory, Republican operatives constantly advocate for an increase the signature requirements for initiatives and referenda. They claim it's easy to get the signatures in modern times (practically a direct quote from Rosenthal). Well, fine. If it's easy, then there's absolutely no reason why candidates shouldn't have to get the exact same numbers.

  11. Joe 2014.07.11

    Here is what I'd do, for any 3rd party candidate the requirement would be the lower of the two main parties for that position for signatures.

    But I'd like to change it so the nominating conventions can nominate all candidates, as long as that party didn't have someone fill out a petition for a primary.

  12. Douglas Wiken 2014.07.11

    20 signatures and $200. Let the nutcase's run. They will most likely support GOP failed economics and legislation.

  13. Craig 2014.07.11

    Just make it a requirement to collect signatures equivalent to 1% of the registered voter count in the state... that goes for candidates as well as ballot initiatives. Doug's $200 fee is a good idea as well - helps weed out those who are just running to see their name on a ballot.

    However, in this modern world I think it is time to start allowing e-signatures on such petitions. Have the resident supply their name and address via a website and use some form of authentication to ensure it is legitimate. They could even go a step further and do spot checks / audits and verify the person who e-signed did in fact sign, and the verification process could be done systemically rather than someone having to read names and addresses from paper forms.

    If they can use e-signatures to sign for a mortgage or pass legislation it should be good enough to collect petition signatures shouldn't it?

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.07.11

    Donald, getting signatures rarely feels easy to me. Make the requirement the same for everyone. If we set the threshold at 2,000, and a party (like the Cons or the Libs) doesn't have 2,000 registered voters, well, tough shiskey: they should work on voter registration! (Is that a fair challenge to those parties?)

    Would it be fairer to adopt a two-lane model of ballot access? Let one of the rewards of organizing a party be the ability to nominate for Senate, House, and Governor from the convention floor. Let anyone who does not win or does not want a party nomination collect signatures. Fair? Useful?

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.07.11

    Doug, Craig, why the filing fee? Why erect a money wall that plenty of cranks and crooks and corporate cronies can still vault with ease? The market creates enough money walls (cost of advertising, staff, etc.); why should the state erect another?

  16. Douglas Wiken 2014.07.11

    Getting thousands of signatures is also a money wall. Verifying thousands of signatures is a waste of time and money apparently...assuming the Sec. of State verifies anything at all beyond R and D.

    If a candidate and supporters can't raise $200, they are unlikely to run any kind of a real campaign at all. I am not saying this should apply to initiative and referendum petitions however. Directly changing laws or the State Constitution should require a higher bar and also the explanation and other printing for these exceeds that of placing a candidate name on a ballot or into a voting machine.

    I think the current requirements for candidates is unduly restrictive. The signatures and dollars might vary with the office. Perhaps less for legislative, county commissioners, mayors, etc and more for statewide candidates.

    I am aware that this may seem to indicate my support for money is equivalent to speech, but I don't think that is the case. This is just an idea to make the systems simpler, more efficient, and less susceptible to fraud and abuse.

  17. Donald Pay 2014.07.11

    I can't agree with decreasing the signatures for candidates. The initiated measures and referred laws affect far less than an elected official, yet require far more signatures to get something with far less impact than a Legislator on the ballot. Legislators vote to pass or vote down hundreds of bills per session and vote on budgets, which set the states spending priorities, yet they get on the ballot with far less signatures than is required to turn down a bad law that the legislator voted for. You can't refer a budget bill, so the major thing that a candidate does can't be turned down by the public. Thus, a candidate for office (Legislative and Governor) is far more important than an initiative and referendum, yet they have to get a very paltry some of signatures. We've got the expert testimony from no less than Joel Rosenthal that getting signatures is very easy. Well, then he and the other Republicans should have no difficulty getting 5% to qualify for the ballot.

    Really, the signature requirement should be flipped. The candidates should collect 5%, and only 1% for initiatives and referenda.

  18. Kurt Evans 2014.07.11

    Roger Cornelius asked me:
    >"Does Gant have to personally accept the notification or can the SOS receive it and post the date it was received?"

    I'm assuming Gant didn't have to personally accept it, but I had a few questions, and no one else in the office seemed to have the answers. Apparently everything worked out though.

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