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Signature Challenge First Of Its Kind In SD

July 2, 2009, 9:29 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Signature Challenge First Of Its Kind In SD
Thursday was a historic day in South Dakota. For the first time a group is challenging a petition to put an issue on a statewide ballot. Supporters of a statewide smoke free law filed paperwork with the Secretary of State's office claiming opponents did not collect enough signatures to put a smoking ban on the 2010 ballot.

The South Dakota Secretary of State's office says checking the signatures smoke free supporters are challenging will be a top priority for them.

The Secretary of State's office will start reviewing the nearly 10,000 challenged signatures Monday to determine whether they are, in fact, invalid. It previously took three people, three days to go through 1,300 signatures. At that rate, it would take the staff working on the challenge until the middle of August to finish the review. But no matter how long it takes a challenge of a petition this size, on a statewide level, is history in the making.

"This is as Chris called it, 'uncharted territory,' because this has never happened before," Deputy Secretary of State Teresa Bray said.

The Secretary of State's office will spend the next several weeks looking at the 383 pages of invalid signatures smoke free supporters submitted Thursday afternoon. A challenge of petition signatures has been brought on a county and local level in South Dakota before, but never like this.

"It has never been done on a statewide level mostly because of the magnitude of what needed to be done," Bray said.

South Dakota's Deputy Secretary of State Teresa Bray says a citizen's right to petition a law that the legislature passed, and then the right to challenge that petition is a text-book example of the way government checks and balances are supposed to work.

And its all unfolding in front of thousands of South Dakota voters waiting to see whose efforts will be snuffed out.

"I think it's a fascinating part of what our election process is and it will be interesting to see what happens in the next few weeks," Bray said.

Bray says since this is uncharted water, if it ends up there are not enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, Secretary of State Chris Nelson will have to consult with Attorney General Larry Long to determine what that next step is.

The petition organizers and smoking ban supporters also have several legal options to challenge the petition in court.

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