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Judge blocks ‘extensive and burdensome’ state law on ballot initiatives

Election Law

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A federal judge in South Dakota ruled Thursday that a new law requiring people who circulate ballot petitions to provide the state with their personal information is unconstitutional.

In a 15-page ruling, Judge Charles Kornmann of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota said the disclosure required of petition circulators is “extensive and burdensome” since it includes names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, state of voter registration and sex offender status. Under the new law, signed by Gov. Kristi Noem in March, they are also issued an identification number, asked to wear badges and included in a directory.

“Additionally, all of this disclosure must take place, and will be made publicly available, before a circulator ever begins to circulate a petition, giving opponents a long time to engage in oppressive conduct,” the judge wrote.

Courthouse News Service and the Associated Press have coverage.

Political activist Cory Heidelberger sued Noem and other state officials to prevent the law from taking effect in July. Heidelberger argued that in addition to the onerous disclosure requirements, the law discriminates based on viewpoint since it only applies to people circulating petitions to invoke change, Courthouse News Service reports.

“It might be argued that those who seek to place a measure on the ballot are doing something qualitatively different than those who oppose placing it on the ballot,” the judge said in the opinion. “That is, those soliciting signatures are seeking to change the law and, moreover, their actions could change the law.

“For this reason, more government oversight and regulation is needed to ensure the process is fair and uncorrupted. Such arguments are insufficient to justify the government’s blatant violation of the First Amendment.”

Kornmann also voiced concerns about the law’s scope, since it views any member of the public who asks someone to vote for a ballot measure as a petition circulator and requires them to register with the state.

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