Signature submission deadline for initiatives will change in South Dakota to six months before election day

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) signed a bill into law that would change signature deadlines for ballot initiatives to six months before election day. This change would affect ballot initiative campaigns in South Dakota, allowing campaigns more time to collect signatures closer to the election date.

The bill, Senate Bill 113 (SB 113), changed the signature submission deadline for ballot initiatives to the first Tuesday in May of a general election year. Previously, the deadline was one year before an election.

After signing SB 113 into law, along with 11 other election-related bills on March 21, 2023, Gov. Noem said, “South Dakota’s election laws are built with integrity. We have one of the best election systems in the nation. With these laws, we will further strengthen our fantastic system and provide accountability for the future.”

Signing SB 113 into law comes after a ruling by the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. On Feb. 17, 2023, the court ruled in SD Voice v. Noem that South Dakota’s filing deadline for ballot initiatives violated freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

The legal challenge to South Dakota’s signature submission deadline was filed by Cory Heidelberger under his ballot question committee, SD Voice. The plaintiffs argued that prohibiting the circulation of an initiative petition 12 months prior to an election violates the First Amendment. The defendants—Gov. Noem, along with the attorney general and secretary of state of South Dakota—said that “even if the filing deadline restricts speech, any First Amendment burden is not severe and its interests justify the restriction,” according to the ruling.

In the ruling by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge L. Steven Grasz considered the circulation of petitions political speech, and that establishing a filing deadline a year before the election violated the First Amendment. “South Dakota’s filing deadline of one year before a general election ‘imposes a burden on political expression that the State has failed to justify’,” wrote Judge Grasz, “In other words, South Dakota failed to provide evidence connecting the one-year deadline to its asserted interests.”

Judge Grasz said that establishing a signature submission deadline 12 months prior to an election could affect the signature-gathering process. He said, “In Heidelberger’s experience, voters pay more attention to political issues during an election year. This is not surprising. It is common sense that cabining core political speech in the form of petition circulation to a period no closer than a year before an election would dilute the effectiveness of the speech.”

In 2019, discussing the one-year deadline, South Dakota Director of the Division of Elections Kea Warne said that South Dakota had one of the smallest election staff and that having a small staff do detailed work close to the election could cause them to fail to meet certain federal guidelines.

Signature deadlines were already changed by court order for citizen-initiated state statutesin 2021 after the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota Northern Division ruled that the deadline to submit signatures 12 months before an election to amend state law was unconstitutional. 

The signature submission deadline for both initiated constitutional amendments and initiated state statutes is now the first Tuesday in May of the general election year.

Currently, there is one citizen-initiated petition circulating in South Dakota for the 2024 election—a measure to provide a state constitutional right to an abortion in South Dakota with certain regulations.

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