SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Minnehaha County Commission has adopted a new public policy regarding people trying to gather signatures for possible ballot measures.
The new policy, which passed the commission by a 5-0 vote, aims to control “where political activity is permitted” and sets up designated areas in front of the Minnehaha County Courthouse and Minnehaha County Administration Building. You can see the two areas marked in yellow in the photos below.
The new policy requires people looking to gather signatures to remain outside of the county building and within the two designated areas. The previous policy for signature gatherers required people to “remain outside of county buildings and not obstruct people as they enter and exit the building.”
The new policy is more specific and states: “Utilizers may approach individuals for the purpose of asking them to sign a petition provided the Utilizers are within the Designated Areas.” You can view the new policy in the document attached below.
Newly elected Minnehaha County Auditor Leah Anderson requested the new policy and told commissioners the previous policy wasn’t clear enough.
“We’ve witnessed an increase in activity with those collecting signatures, but also those who wish to share a message of opposition,” Anderson said. “We would like to have better control over the activities that take place on the campus.”
There are four possible 2024 ballot measures currently approved by the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office to collect signatures – a Constitutional Amendment establishing a right to an abortion in the state, a Constitutional Amendment to create top-two primary elections and both a Constitutional Amendment and Initiated Measure to stop the sales tax on groceries.
Along with the campaign to gather signatures to put the issue of abortion on the ballot, an opposition campaign has formed to advocate for people not to sign the petition.
Commissioner Dean Karsky asked Anderson how the county would be enforcing the new policy.
“I’m not going to watch the parking lot all day,” Anderson said. “For their safety, it would be best if they are there and in that area.”
Anderson said people gaining signatures shouldn’t be allowed to stand on the sidewalks near the entry doors to the administration building. She said there’s concerns about making the county building as accessible as possible without people trying to gather signatures standing in the way.
“I think the citizens don’t really appreciate having to go through that,” Anderson said. “Moving them out in that designated area would keep them away from the door.”
Anderson also said she’s been concerned about signatures not being witnessed and signatures that have been collected by not following state law.
Commissioner Joe Kippley said “restraining political speech is generally frowned upon, but this seems to me to be a reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.”
Deputy State’s Attorney Eric Bogue said the key words are “time, place and manner” and the county is providing space for people to exercise their rights to petition.
“Still allow them a place of some prominence and visibility to get their petitions and or do whatever other political activity, First Amendment activity, that they would like to engage in,” Bogue said.
Anderson said the policy allows people gathering signatures to enter the building when severe weather hits, but they cannot gather signatures while inside county buildings.
“If they need to come in and use the restroom. We’re not restricting that at all,” Anderson said. “We just don’t want signature gathering done inside the building.”