- Associated Press - Thursday, April 26, 2018

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota ballot question advocates lack the resources to run an expensive campaign to block a new state law they contend will make it harder to put voter initiatives on the ballot, a key activist said Thursday.

The Republican-backed law requires ballot question signature gatherers to provide more information to the secretary of state, including their driver’s license numbers and the length of time at their current and past two addresses.

Rick Weiland, co-founder of initiative group TakeItBack.Org, a lead organization in discussions to refer the law to voters, said such campaigns require significant financial and volunteer resources in a tight timeframe. Putting the law on the ballot would require opponents to collect 13,871 valid signatures by June 25, but campaigns aim to collect significantly more names to have a cushion if officials invalidate some signatures.

“There have been numerous discussions about an appropriate and feasible path forward,” Weiland said. “We simply don’t have the money and time to collect 20,000 signatures to refer what we think is a constitutionally questionable piece of legislation making it more difficult, if not impossible, for the people to petition their government.”

He said the group is “exploring other avenues.”

The Secretary of State’s office hasn’t gotten any referendum petitions from the 2018 legislative session, spokeswoman Kristin Gabriel said in an email. The session ended last month.

House Speaker Mark Mickelson, the law’s sponsor, has said it will make it easier for courts to determine whether circulators are South Dakota residents, a requirement in state law. Critics argued the law will make it tougher for campaigns to find people to gather signatures.

It also mandates that petitioners submit to the state information on whether they have resident hunting or fishing licenses, if they pay in-state college tuition and other proof of residency like library cards or utility bills.

Under the law, ballot measure sponsors or those paid by initiative campaigns for signature gathering who commit multiple violations of petition circulation, residency or campaign finance regulations would be barred from working on initiatives for four years. It’s set to take effect July 1.

The GOP majorities at the Capitol this year imposed a slew of new rules for citizens’ initiative campaigns and decided to ask voters in November to make the state constitution harder to change. Cory Heidelberger, a ballot question activist and Democratic legislative candidate, said the new rules for petition circulators pose the “greatest danger” of hamstringing initiative efforts of the laws passed this year.

But the Aberdeen state Senate hopeful said he’s campaigning for “comprehensive initiative reform” as a candidate, and encouraging others to join him, rather than pushing to refer the circulator rules to the ballot. Heidelberger helped refer two measures to the voters that the Legislature passed in 2015.

“The window is very, very narrow,” he said of veto referendum campaigns. “It would be extremely difficult to start it now.”

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