How to Circulate a Ballot Question Petition

Do you want to do democracy? Of course you do!

The Legislature doesn’t require you to wear a necktie to circulate ballot question petitions, but they have made the process of circulating a ballot question petition unnecessarily complicated. Here’s the most concise guide I can offer to what you need to do to legally circulate an initiative or referendum petition in South Dakota:


1. Pre-Approval of Circulators: The Secretary of State requires that, before a circulator collects any signatures, the petition sponsors submit a copy of the circulator handout form (see below) with that circulator’s name, phone number, e-mail, and rate of pay printed on it. The Secretary accepts electronic versions of that form by e-mail (to elections@state.sd.us) and has been approving those forms quickly during regular business hours. The Secretary says that he will not count signatures collected by circulators prior to the date the receive the Secretary’s approval.

2. Collecting Signatures: Once approved, circulators must collect registered South Dakota voter signatures on the prescribed petition forms with no deviation in size or format. Signers must also print their names and provide their residential address, city, date of signing, and county of voter registration on the petition. Voters living in towns of population 5,000 or larger must provide a physical address, not a post office box. Voters must sign the petition themselves; circulators may write the signer’s printed name and other information. Circulators must physically witness every signature, seeing with their own eyes the actual ink flowing from pen to petition; circulators may not leave petitions unattended or hand them to other people to pass around and sign.

Circulators should ask every potential signer, “Are you registered to vote in South Dakota?” Only registered South Dakota voters may sign these petitions.

3. Circulator Handout Form: Law requires that circulators offer every signer a circulator handout form for each petition signed. (Yes: if one person signs the initiative and the referendum, the circulator must give that person two different handouts: one for the initiative, one for the referendum.) In addition to all of the information shown on the basic template attached, each circulator handout must have the circulator’s name, phone number, e-mail, and rate of pay for circulating printed or written on it. Signers need not take the handouts to fulfill the legal requirement.

4. Circulator Oath & Petition Notarization: Circulators must take all completed petition sheets to a notary public. With that notary public watching, the circulator must print his/her name, residence address, city, and state and sign the petition sheet in the space marked “Verification by person circulating petition” (bottom portion of back page). The notary then signs, dates, and applies his/her seal to that sheet. The notary must also provide commission expiration date and title (usually, simply, “Notary Public”). Circulators and notaries must complete these steps on every completed petition sheet. Circulators need not obtain voter signatures on every blank of a petition sheet to get it notarized; however, once a sheet is notarized, circulators may not collect any more signatures on that sheet.

5. Circulator Affidavit: Each circulator must complete a circulator affidavit for each petition circulated (in this case, one for the initiative, one for the referendum). That affidavit must include the circulator’s driver license state, number, and expiration date; state of voter registration (if registered); current, last, and second-to-last physical addresses and length of time at each; statement (Yes or No) of whether the circulator pays in-state tuition and obtains a resident hunting or fishing license; and at least one copy of “any other information relevant to indicate residency, including a library card or utility bill.” Each circulator must sign that affidavit before a notary, have it notarized, and submit it to the ballot question sponsor (i.e., me) with his/her completed petitions.

6. Petition Submission: All completed, notarized petition sheets and circulator affidavits for the referendum need to be in my hands so I can submit them to the Secretary of State in one big box on June 27. Practically speaking, that means every document should be in my hands by June 26 so I can deliver them personally to Pierre on June 27. All initiative sheets need to be in my hands by November 3 for submission in one batch in Pierre on November 4 [Cory Allen Heidelberger, SD Voice: Guidance for Initiative and Referendum Petition Circulators, 2019.04.29].


As you can see, the Legislature has imposed a lot of redundant paperwork and bureaucracy on the petition process, in an attempt to deter grassroots organizers from even trying to circulate petitions to change the law. Interestingly, legislators have not imposed Steps 1, 3, or 5 on themselves or other political candidates when they circulate nominating petitions.

The People Power Initiative Petition that my allies and I are circulating would repeal Steps 1, 3, and 5. The HB 1094 Referendum Petition we’re circulating repeals a future requirement that circulators pre-register with their home addresses and wear state-issued badges any time they solicit signatures.

If you’re interested in putting any issue to a public vote—hemp and CBD oil, minimum wage, Medicaid expansion, gun rights, abortion rights, you name it—you should join us and help circulate these People Power Petitions right now. The circulating process outlined above is complicated to the point of driving citizens away from civic participation. Our initiative and referendum will simplify the process and invite more people to participate in their democracy.

If you want to circulate, contact me today. If you want to donate, click this link right now!

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