Last updated on 2018.04.29
The Senate State Affairs Committee heard concerns from the American Civil Liberties Union this morning that the petition reform legislation working its way through Pierre may need some changes to protect ballot access for new political parties.
In testimony on Senate Bill 69, South Dakota ACLU policy director Libby Skarin said her organization understands the overarching reasons the Board of Elections has proposed this bill along with SB 67 and SB 68, to improve the validation process for nominating petitions. However, said Skarin, moving the petition circulation period one month earlier, to a submission deadline at the end of February, creates ballot access issues, especially for new political parties seeking official recognition from the state. Skarin said that the ACLU brought litigation in 1984 challenging a February petition deadline and got that deadline moved later.
To flesh out the ACLU's opposition, Skarin recruited Richard Winger, the ballot access expert blogger Ken Santema cited yesterday in contending that SB 69's February deadline may violate the Constitution. Testifying by phone from out of state on the kind indulgence of committee chairman Senator Tim Rave, Winger said that the Supreme Court has held that states must allow new parties to form in the spring of an election year. He noted that the Republican Party formed in July 1854 in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed that spring. Winger said South Dakota is the only state that requires new parties to petition for status before the primary elections. He said there is no need for new parties to form before the primaries.
Winger and Skarin did not ask the committee to reject Senate Bill 69 or even any portion of it. They asked instead that the Legislature add language moving the petition filing date for new parties back to a more reasonable and Constitutional summertime date and allow new parties to nominate their candidates at convention. Neither had a formal amendment fleshed out to present to the committee this morning, but Skarin said she could have a proposal to senators by the end of the day.
Building on the ACLU's point about ballot access, Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) said the February deadline could make it much harder for legislators to help their parties recruit candidates. It's hard enough getting people to run, said Senator Hunhoff. Move that recruitment period to the holidays and the heart of Session when legislators are busy in Pierre, and even more ballot slots may go unfilled. Senator Hunhoff proposed that State Affairs defer SB 69 to allow a couple days to draft legislation that would cover the ACLU's concerns and perhaps create a provision to allow party chairs to fill ballot slots left empty at primary filing time.
When Senator Hunhoff asked her if such a proposal would complicate the election process at all, Secretary Krebs mentioned that parties right now can recruit placeholders to achieve the same end but said she'd have to check with her staff to see if they could think of any complications.
Senator Corey Brown (R-23/Gettysburg) said deferring the bill wouldn't change the indigestion he was feeling over Senator Hunhoff's proposal. Senator Brown said he finds the whole placeholder concept "abhorrent," and he didn't sound any more enthusiastic about letting party chairs pick nominees for blank spots. He also seemed uneasy about letting new parties nominate legislators at convention, as if facing an opponent selected by just a handful of his neighbors was an affront to democracy.
Chairman Rave, sounding a bit irked to have spent 50 minutes on this one bill, nonetheless urged and the committee agreed to defer SB 69 to Friday, when he promised to handle the bill briefly (translation: if you've got amendments, Bernie, they'd better short and sweet).
Senate State Affairs felt no need to delay SB 69's companion legislation, SB 67. That bill, which would set the second Tuesday in March as the deadline for filing court challenges against nominating petitions, drew no opposition and moves to the Senate floor.
But proceed carefully, Senate: passing SB 67 and SB 68 (which passed Senate Local Government this morning) only makes sense if SB 69 passes without amendment to its petition submission deadline of the last Tuesday in February. Make changes to SB 69 without changing SB 67 and SB 68, and you'll have a statutory spaghetti spill on your hands. (Remind me, Board of Elections, why we didn't write all these changes into one bill?)