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Secretary of state-elect seeks election changes

PIERRE -- South Dakota's new secretary of state and the state Board of Elections met Wednesday to discuss proposed legislation about problems that surfaced this year.

Shantel Krebs said she wanted the perspectives of board members before the Jan. 6 deadline for submitting legislation from state government offices.

Changes to state election laws need to be made during the 2015 session of the Legislature so they are in effect for the 2016 election cycle. The session opens Jan. 13.

Among the proposals endorsed by the board were allowing candidates to circulate nomination petitions for voters' signatures one month earlier on Dec. 1 and ending the circulating period one month earlier on the last Tuesday in February.

That would allow more time for challenges to be made about the validity of petitions. A related proposal would expand the period when challenges could be made in circuit court, with a proposed new deadline of the second Tuesday in March.

A challenge to a U.S. Senate candidate's petition was attempted but couldn't be completed in Hughes County circuit court this year, because there wasn't enough time before primary election ballots had to be printed.

The printing deadline is based on the starting date for absentee voting, and that is based on providing adequate time for military and overseas voting.

Another proposal endorsed Wednesday would establish a process for an independent candidate for governor to replace her or his lieutenant governor candidate. Candidate Mike Myers went to court this year so he could choose Lora Hubbel to replace Caitlin Collier.

Krebs, a Republican from Renner who has served 10 years in the Legislature, thanked the current secretary of state, Jason Gant, for calling the meeting.

Gant, a Republican, is finishing his first four-year term as secretary of state. He didn't seek re-election after Krebs filed her candidacy paperwork in early September 2013.

The meeting was held by telephone. Participating were Rapid City lawyer Mitch LaFleur, Rapid City lawyer Linda Lea Viken, Sioux Falls lawyer Dick Casey and Deuel County auditor Pam Lynde of Clear Lake.

"The intent would be showing bipartisan support and the proposal would come from the Board of Elections," Krebs told them about the draft legislation. "I would propose each one of these individually. I would not want to do a package."

The board also deferred action on allowing the secretary of state to check 5 percent of randomly chosen signatures of voters on every candidate's nominating petition.

State law currently doesn't allow the identities of signers to be checked by the secretary of state for their validity as registered voters. Instead members of the public can file a challenge.

One independent U.S. Senate candidate was thrown off the ballot this year because many of the signatures were falsified in some way.

Most of the board members participating Wednesday expressed reluctance to impose the 5 percent checks on legislative candidates because they frequently need only 50 signatures and sometimes less.

The fear was a few bad signatures in such small samples could lead many candidates to be disqualified and increase court challenges.

There was informal agreement that the 5 percent checks would be appropriate for statewide candidates. The random sample is already used for checking signatures on petitions for constitutional amendments, referrals and initiatives.

Krebs said she and her new staff would further work on a proposal and have it distributed to board members no later than Dec. 23. Then another board meeting would be held by telephone.

"This is a nice learning curve," Krebs said.

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