SD Dems ask judge to put 2 candidates on ballotDWU professor David Mitchell and Madison farmer Charles Johnson should not be kept off ballot because of technical problems, party argues.
By: CHET BROKAW, The Associated Press
PIERRE (AP) — Democrats are asking a judge to overrule the secretary of state and put two legislative candidates on the ballot, arguing that paperwork problems shouldn't keep eligible candidates from running for office.
The South Dakota Democratic Party filed a lawsuit this week challenging Secretary of State Jason Gant's decision to reject nominating petitions from two candidates because of technical problems in the way the documents were filled out. Both political hopefuls are Democrats.
Charles Johnson, who farms near Madison, wants to run as a South Dakota Senate candidate in District 8, where he would challenge Republican Senate Leader Russell Olson of Wentworth. David Mitchell, a professor at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, is trying to get on the ballot as a House candidate in District 20, where both incumbents are Republicans.
Gant said Tuesday that he was simply following the law when he rejected the petitions. He rejected the petitions because mistakes were made in filling out some portions of the documents.
"On both of these petitions, they were not completed correctly based on the law. That is why they were denied access to the ballot," Gant said.
South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf said state law makes it clear that election officials cannot reject a petition on mere technicalities.
"At the end of the day, it's always better to err on the side of the democratic process and allowing the will of the voters to be heard," Nesselhuf said.
If Johnson and Mitchell are placed on the ballot, they would not be involved in the June 5 primary elections, so a decision wouldn't be required until later in the year when ballots are printed for the November general election.
The three-page lawsuit argues that Gant rejected Johnson's nominating petition because it stated the signers were from Lake County instead of from District 8, which includes a larger area. Democrats argued that Lake County is entirely within District 8, and another part of the petition says Johnson is running for state Senate in District 8.
Mitchell was told his petition was rejected because he did not list his political party on a line labeled "Declaration of Candidate." However, two other places on Mitchell's petition give his political affiliation as Democrat, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, state law provides that election laws "shall be liberally construed so that the real will of the voters may not be defeated by a mere technicality."
"All necessary information was provided on the nominating petitions, and the candidates were both substantially in compliance with the law," Sioux Falls lawyer Sam. E. Khoroosi wrote in the lawsuit.
Gant said other candidates made similar mistakes but had time before the March 27 filing deadline to correct those errors. Johnson and Mitchell turned in their petitions at the last minute, so they had no time to fix their mistakes, he said.
Nesselhuf said an official in the Lake County auditor's office made the technical error that got Johnson's petition rejected. He said the lawsuit will give the court system another chance to explain that mere technicalities should not keep candidates off the ballot.
"It hampers the democratic process is what it amounts to. We need to make certain going forward we all have an understanding of what the law says and that we are in fact erring on the side of letting voters decide as opposed to bureaucrats," Nesselhuf said.