Ballot question campaigns seek signatures as deadline looms
By JAMES NORD
Oct. 31, 2017
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota ballot question campaigns shopping their causes before voters are rushing to collect enough signatures to get on the 2018 ballot as the state's petition circulating window nears an end.
Initiative groups hoping to go before voters next year face a crucial Monday deadline to turn in thousands of names each to the Secretary of State's office for review. Volunteers and paid circulators across the state are working on issues ranging from open primary elections to legislative redistricting.
Plans to loosen marijuana laws, cap the price state agencies could pay for prescription drugs and ban out-of-state contributions for ballot questions are also among the dozen measures approved for petitioning. Initiated measures need nearly 14,000 valid signatures, while constitutional amendments require almost 28,000 names.
"We're scrambling as if we don't have enough, and that's our whole game plan for the rest of the week," said Charles Parkinson, sponsor of the independent redistricting constitutional amendment.
The South Dakota Democratic Party distributed amendment petitions to about 200 volunteers, while TakeItBack.Org co-founder Rick Weiland said the initiative group has more than 100 volunteers circulating petitions for it and two other measures. Weiland's group also received $50,000 from former Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson's Senate committee for paid circulators for the amendment.
"These things aren't easy to get on the ballot, but I'm confident we'll qualify all three," said Weiland, referring to the redistricting and prescription drug measures and a vote-at-home plan.
The campaign for a trio of initiatives that would legalize medical and recreational marijuana and physician-assisted dying have an office in Sioux Falls and planned to gather signatures this week in Aberdeen, Flandreau and Sioux Falls, said Melissa Mentele, founder and director of New Approach South Dakota. Mentele said she's encouraging supporters — the group has about 300 volunteers — to mail back their petitions or bring them in.
Mentele, who estimated backers had about 15,000 signatures in hand for the medical marijuana proposal, said the group would also send out circulators to people who are housebound.
"You just have to give us a call, and we will make it work," she said.
"Death with Dignity" measure sponsor Angela Albonico said she plans to collect signatures on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian reservations this week as volunteers contact people who have expressed interest in signing on. She said if supporters "do make the ballot, it'll be by the skin of our teeth."
House Speaker Mark Mickelson, who is pursuing the ballot question campaign finance measure and a proposal to raise tobacco taxes to improve tech school affordability, said he's exceeded 15,000 signatures for both proposals, totals that he anticipated would continue to climb.
Open Primaries South Dakota Treasurer De Knudson said the campaign's goal is for volunteers to collect at least 2,000 signatures, part of a 40,000-signature objective. The constitutional amendment campaign received $140,000 from a national nonprofit to help supporters gather signatures, and Knudson said others have also contributed.
"I'm doing this pretty much around the clock," she said.
Supporters of a government ethics constitutional amendment turned in more than 50,000 signatures for their measure in October. The Secretary of State's office conducts a random sampling of signatures to determine their validity.
Two proposed measures approved for circulation won't appear on the ballot: one would make it harder for the Legislature to tamper with voter initiatives and the other would legalize marijuana and establish April 20 as "Cannabis Day."