Honoring the Voters’ Will In South Dakota

Wed, Jul 29 2009 by Anonymous

The fight continues in South Dakota over banning smoking in state bars and restaurants. The focus is now on how referendum petitions were notarized, and the voices of over 2000 voters could be silenced in the debate.

Earlier this year the state legislature passed a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. Opponents to the ban immediately began collecting signatures to bring the issue to a vote through referendum. The referendum has had an on-again, off-again relationship the 2010 ballot - being told first that it had qualified and then later that it did not.
The ban, which was supposed to take effect this week, has been put on hold until the state Supreme Court can sort things out.

At issue are problems with the signatures of 29 notaries public on petition sheets effecting around 2000 signatures. South Dakota, like some other states, requires that petition sheets be signed by the person who circulated them and then notarized. The notaries in question here provided incomplete or incorrect dates for the expiration of their commissions. An interest group supporting the ban found the notary problem after challenging the validity of the signatures.

We’re not sure whether the petition sheets were notarized properly; we don’t think it matters. What does matter is that the will of the voters who signed the petition in the first place be honored.

A petition asks registered voters a simple question; “Do you want your signature to count toward letting everyone vote on a particular law”. If they want their signature to count, they sign the petition. The person who carries the petition and the notary who later sign the petition have no effect on the desire of the voter who signed the petition.

When the otherwise valid signatures of registered voters who wanted their signatures to count on a petition are thrown off of a petition because of mistakes made by petition drive organizers, notaries, or government officials, those voters lose their voices. Citizens without a voice cannot be in charge of their government, and we hope that states will begin to adopt legislation protecting the voters’ will so that situations like the one in South Dakota don’t happen again.