AP NEWS

Judge: Ballot petition circulators law is unconstitutional

January 10, 2020 GMT

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled a new state law that requires people who circulate ballot petitions to register and be included in a directory is unconstitutional.

In a written ruling Thursday, a federal judge in Aberdeen said the measure violates free speech rights enshrined in the First Amendment. The judge said the law placed “burdensome” regulations and discriminated against people supporting ballot initiatives.

The law required petition circulators to apply with the secretary of state for an identification number, provide personal information and be included in a directory. The South Dakota Legislature passed the law last year, and was to have gone into effect in July.

SD Voice, a grassroots ballot question committee operated by Cory Heidelberger of Aberdeen, challenged the law in federal court. A one-day trial took place in Aberdeen last month.

Heidelberger said he was thrilled with the ruling and called it a victory for the constitutional rights of South Dakotans, Aberdeen American News reported.

Heidelberger is a frequent proponent of liberal causes that clash with Republicans who control the Legislature and governor’s office.

“The Legislature doesn’t want change, and they want to knock people in the teeth if they want to make change,” he said.

In South Dakota, initiatives and referendums can be placed on general election ballots if petitioners can collect the signatures of at least 5% of the total number of voters in the last gubernatorial election.

Rep. Jon Hansen, a Republican from Dell Rapids, sponsored the bill to regulate petitioners last year. He disagreed with the ruling and said the law was intended to prevent out-of-state petitioners from influencing South Dakota laws.

A representative from the Attorney General’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a separate ruling released on Thursday, the same federal judge ruled that the state had to pay legal fees totaling over $112,000 in two other lawsuits that challenged the constitutionality of South Dakota laws. Heidelberger and the South Dakota Newspaper Association, along with several other free speech groups, challenged a ban on out-of-state contributions to ballot measure committees.

The judge ruled in May that the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against people from out-of-state who wanted to fund free speech activities in South Dakota. The judge also ruled it violated the Commerce Clause to the Constitution by interfering with the free flow of money.