- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota lawmakers are moving quickly on an election law package to expand state and citizen oversight of candidates’ petitions to secure a spot on the ballot.

Two state Senate panels on Wednesday approved parts of the package put forward by Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and the bipartisan state Board of Elections.

The Senate Local Government Committee approved a measure allowing the Secretary of State’s office to audit a random sample of voter signatures from statewide candidates’ petitions.

Under current state law, the office has the authority to review a random sample of signatures from voter ballot measures to determine their authenticity, but it can’t check the accuracy of signatures on the nominating petitions of statewide candidates. Krebs said the focus is on offices such as governor and U.S. Senate, not smaller legislative races.

The Senate State Affairs Committee approved a provision designating a “drop dead” date for citizens to begin a court challenge of a nominating petition, and it gives such cases priority over others in the court. The change is meant to ensure challenges can be resolved with enough time for the state to accurately print absentee ballots.

The same committee held off action on Krebs’ proposal that would allow citizens more time to challenge a petition by moving up the candidate filing deadline. Sen. Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton, said he wants to make changes to the proposal to ensure it doesn’t dissuade candidates to run.

“It’s really tough to get people to pull the trigger,” he said.

The revisions were inspired by South Dakota’s 2014 U.S. Senate race, in which at least two candidates were accused of election law violations, Krebs said.

“I feel like there’s general support with the legislation,” she said. “We are definitely responding to the 2014 election cycle.”

Authorities say Republican candidate Annette Bosworth fraudulently attested to gathering voter signatures when she was really on a Christian mission trip to the Philippines. She’s charged with six counts each of perjury and filing false documents, and is set to stand trial on Feb. 2.

Independent candidate Clayton Walker was also indicted for elections law violations during that election cycle. Walker has a hearing scheduled on Feb. 3.

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