Legal Guidance for Circulating Petitions

You’re doing the People’s work by circulating a ballot measure petition! To respect the people and preserve their right to vote, you’ll want to follow the law to the letter. Here’s a summary of the laws pertaining to circulating initiative and referendum petitions:

Legal circulation practice

Any South Dakota resident age 18 or older may circulate a ballot measure petition (SDCL 12-1-3(11); residency defined in SDCL 12-1-4). Registered sex offenders may not circulate petitions (SDCL 12-1-32) unless “in the employ of, and under the immediate supervision of, another person and where the circumstances preclude any contact with children” (SDCL 12-1-33).

The only statutory restriction on where petitions may be circulated is found in SDCL 12-18-3, which forbids gathering petition signatures within 100 feet of a polling place. This prohibition applies during state and local elections. It applies to courthouses and other buildings where in-person absentee voting is taking place prior to election day. (See this 2019 municipal/school election calendar for possible periods of early voting; check with local officials for details.) If voting is taking place in a building, petitioners may not gather signatures anywhere inside that building; petitioners may stand and gather signatures 101 feet or more from the nearest doorway to that building.

Any South Dakota registered voter may sign a petition. Circulators are expected to ask signers if they are registered voters but are not expected to ask signers for identification or voter registration cards (see “reasonable inquiry” in circulator’s oath, ARSD 05:02:08:07). Circulators can register new voters, but those new registrants cannot sign a petition until their applications have been received by their county auditor.

Registered voters signing a ballot measure petition must provide their signature, printed name, residence address, town of residence, county of voter registration, and date of signing in the boxes provided on the petition. Signers must handwrite their own signature; the circulator may fill in the other items for signers.

Circulators must witness every signature they collect (SDCL 2-1-7). Circulators may not leave a petition on a table for passersby to sign. Circulators may not hand a petition sheet around a room for signatures while they attend to other business. Circulators must be physically present, next to the signer, able to see the ink flowing from pen to petition as the voter signs.

A circulator may not sign as a voter a petition sheet that she is circulating. A circulator may sign as a voter a petition sheet that someone else is circulating.

A circulator must sign the circulator’s oath (ARSD 05:02:08:07) under notary seal on every petition sheet on which she collects voter signatures. The circulator must write her name, residence address, city, and state and sign and date the circulator’s oath in the presence of the notary public who affixes his seal to the petition sheet. The circulator should watch to make sure the notary public provides his signature, title, and commission expiration date and affixes his seal at the bottom of the petition sheet in a way that does not obscure any of the necessary information.

The circulator may swear her oath and obtain a notary seal on a petition sheet that has some blank voter signature lines remaining. However, once the circulator’s oath is sworn and sealed, the circulator may not collect any more signatures on that sheet.

Circulators may not notarize sheets they circulate. A notary cannot notarize a sheet that he has signed as a voter (SDCL 18-1-12.2).

The Circulator Handout

Circulators must carry copies of a form to provide to every petition signer. The circulator handout must include the following information (SDCL 2-1-1.2):

  1. Attorney general’s title and explanation;
  2. Any fiscal note from the LRC;
  3. Name, phone number and email address of each sponsor;
  4. Name, phone number, and email address of the circulator;
  5. Whether the circulator is a volunteer or paid;
  6. If paid, amount the circulator is being paid.

Circulators may pre-print, stamp, or handwrite their contact and pay information on their handouts.

SDCL 2-1-1.2 requires circulators to “provide” the circulator handout to each person who signs the petition. “Provide” is not clearly defined; in practice, circulators must at least offer a physical sheet of paper with the statutorily required information to each signer; signers are free to take or decline the offered paper. However, to ensure strict compliance, circulators should plan to have on hand one handout for every signature they plan to collect; if they run out of these handout, they should not collect any more signatures until they have more handouts in hand.

Circulators must offer separate, distinct handouts for each petition they carry (e.g., see distinct handouts for SD Voice’s HB 1094 Referendum and the People Power Power Initiative).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *