S.D. Secretary of State staff spent a work-week logging medical-marijuana petition into system

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Petition carriers faced new registration requirements in South Dakota this year. But the Legislature didn’t adopt a page-size restriction.

The result was more work once again for the South Dakota Secretary of State elections staff, who decide whether measures get on the election ballots for voters to decide.

The office just went through its latest instance of what happens when signatures are collected on irregular-sized petition sheets.

Five different employees in the state office spent an estimated 40 hours having to first hand-stamp each of the 2,192 signature sheets for a medical-marijuana initiative and then making a computer copy of each page.

On Wednesday some of those same staff were more than 2,000 sheets into the second proposed ballot measure. It’s a constitutional amendment that would legalize and tax recreational marijuana.

There were still another 4,000 or so sheets to run, but the process was going much faster, according to Secretary of State Steve Barnett. He said that was because the recreational-marijuana sheets were standard-sized and therefore fit through the office scanner.

The device also copies each sheet in case other people want to look at them, eliminating the need to make individual copies of each one.

A few years ago the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee turned down the office’s request that petition sheets have a maximum size.

The medical-marijuana petition this month showed why the rule was wanted: The first few medical-marijuana signature sheets crumpled, rather than pass through the scanner.

Barnett described the medical-marijuana petition sheets as “a little bit odd-sized.”

“It’s a little wider than a standard eight-and-a-half by eleven sheet. So we had to hand-stamp all of the sheets, over twenty-one-hundred of them, and then hand-copy them into our scanner,” Barnett said.

Then he showed the recreational-marijuana sheets.

“This is a standard sheet, eight-and-a-half by eleven. So there were roughly just over six thousand sheets submitted. We’ll be able to scan these into our scanner, so it should go a little bit quicker,” Barnett said.

Once the logging process is done for the two petitions, the elections staff starts determining how many signature lines are on each of the more than 8,000 sheets.

Then the process begins of randomly checking whether the signatures came from South Dakotans who were registered to vote on the dates they wrote their names on the lines.

How much time does a scanner save? “Tons,” replied Bailey Tibbs, one of the elections staff, as she hustled to retrieve stacks that had been scanned and to refill the supply tray with more.

State law requires signature sheets to be a single sheet. Kea Warne, deputy secretary of state for election services, showed a recent example of how far that has gone: A poster-sized petition from two elections ago.

For 2020 there will be at most the two marijuana petitions from citizens. By comparison, in 2018, the elections staff approved 10 measures for the statewide ballot: Six proposed constitutional amendments and four proposed initiated laws.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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