OPINION: Who's for real with a petition?

PIERRE -- The public cost was unfortunate, but necessary, in dealing with Annette Bosworth for the frauds committed in gathering signatures for her U.S. Senate candidacy petition.

PIERRE - The public cost was unfortunate, but necessary, in dealing with Annette Bosworth for the frauds committed in gathering signatures for her U.S. Senate candidacy petition.

Same for Clayton Walker's frauds, when he put fictional signatures on his U.S. Senate candidacy petition.

Now we have more allegations regarding petition fraud, for some of the initiatives and constitutional amendments proposed for the 2016 general-election ballot.

Other than a candidate or a ballot-measure sponsor, circulators in South Dakota don't need to register before carrying the petitions.

When fraud occurs, trust turns to menace, threatening democracy and privacy.


What better way than some petition to anonymously steal a person's full name and address?

Requiring circulators to register at a county auditor's office or the secretary of state office before they start gathering signatures would be a safeguard.

The circulator could be asked for photo identification and proof of current residential address, and for the specific ballot measure or candidate, then sign a statement pledging to follow the petition laws.

In turn, the circulator would receive official certification.

That way, a petition signer could ask to see the certification and identification of a circulator.

The downside is we might no longer get to see petition circulators dodge news reporters, as we have this summer.

State law already sets some requirements to be a circulator.

She or he must be "a resident of the State of South Dakota who is at least eighteen years of age who circulates nominating petitions or other petitions for the purpose of placing candidates or issues on any election ballot."


But we're seeing there's no easy way to enforce that law.

Requiring the circulator to be certified beforehand would provide the public with a tool of self-defense.

The recent crimes committed by candidates Bosworth and Walker, and the ongoing controversies during this signature-gathering season for ballot measures, point to the need for steps to better preserve the integrity of our democratic system.

We're heading into an era of much more direct democracy, of lawmaking by ballot.

There is a need too for clarification on what public government bodies can do regarding candidates and ballot measures.

State law looks clear. Governments in South Dakota can't expend money to support candidates, or to petition for a ballot measure, or to take a position on a ballot measure.

The 1941 decision by the South Dakota Supreme Court in a Beadle County case set the standard. The Legislature passed the latest version of the ban in 2007.

But then-Attorney General Larry Long, in an October 2008 lawsuit brought by a citizen against the Brown County commission interpreted the ban to mean "extra" spending. The lawsuit was dropped after the November election, leaving the point unresolved.


An official opinion from Attorney General Marty Jackley in 2012 said the South Dakota Municipal League could spend money in an advocacy role, but another sentence implied the cities themselves couldn't.

It would seem any resolution considered by a government body at a public meeting must cost taxpayers something.

With 16 measures possibly on the 2016 ballot, some conflicting with each other, these aren't small matters.

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