Changing The Rules of the Game
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Commissioners reconsider revising petitions policy

Commissioners reconsider revising petitions policy

By Scott Aust, Journal Staff Writer

RAPID CITY - Two weeks after shelving a proposed petition-circulation policy revision, the Pennington County Commission decided Tuesday to take another look at changing the process at the courthouse.  

I'm sure they are free to change their policy when it comes to circulating petitions inside the court house.  But I don't think they can legally place any restrictions on petitioners outside of the courthouse, as long as the petitioners do not disrupt people coming and going.

Commissioners said they are most concerned about out-of-state interests pushing petitions and paying a bounty to circulators for each signature gathered. 

They can be concerned all they want, but they will never have any control over the particular concerns they mentioned above.  I would add that the J.A.I.L. amendment "idea" may have originated from out of state, but it was put on the ballot by myself.  I have lived in South Dakota since 1968.  Secondly, paying for signatures to be collected is perfectly legal and has been done in South Dakota many times over the years.

"I know I'm not the only one who's had people complain about being approached three or four at a time out here about petitions," Commissioner Delores Coffing said. "I have absolutely no objections to petitions, provided they are circulated by local people." 

That might be Coffing's preference, but she will never have any control over whether or not the circulators are local.  South Dakota law states that anyone over the age of eighteen may collect signatures, even out of staters.

Coffing was especially concerned about petitions in support of JAIL, or Judicial Accountability Initiative Law, a proposed state constitutional amendment that would allow people to sue judges [but that could also lead to litigation against elected officials such as county commissioners, city council members and school board members.]  

Your statement I enclosed in brackets is a totally falsified notion going around, probably started by the State Bar.  Please take the time to read the Amendment at and you will see the Amendment only effects the Judiciary.

Coffing said a petition circulator told her the intent was to hold judges accountable, which she said sounds terrific on the surface but is "lousy" in reality. 

Scott, why is it most reporters don't seem interested in getting these bureaucrats to explain themselves?  Just what does Coffing mean by "lousy in reality"?

"They tried this three or four times in California, (It was tried once in California.  The sponsors failed to collect the required number of signatures due to lack of funding.) and it always failed so they (Who is "they" that Coffing is referring to?  I am the sole Sponsor of the SD J.A.I.L. Amendment, and as I said, I have lived here since 1968) figure ‘Let's take it to the little states, those little hawnyawkers out there, and get it passed there. Then, we can take it to California again,'" she said. 
The only "hawnyawker" I know of here in South Dakota is Coffing!

Later, Coffing learned that the circulators were from out of state and were making about $2.50 per signature. She said she is concerned that some people signed the petition without reading and fully understanding it. 

While it is true that I hired a professional signature collecting company from Nevada, they employed almost exclusively South Dakotans to do the collecting.  And say, why didn't you ask Coffing if she has read the petition?  It is obvious to me she has not, but chooses to attack it anyway.

"Please, when you are asked to sign a petition, find out for sure what it is for, and if the petition carrier is a South Dakota person. Be aware of what you're signing," she said. 

Assistant state's attorney Jay Alderman said that petitioning is a First Amendment issue but that the governing body can impose reasonable regulations on the time, place and manner petitions can be circulated at the courthouse.

Commissioner Gale Holbrook suggested circulators should be required to have petitions reviewed by the county's administrative assistant in advance to determine if it concerns a local issue. 

A "local issue"?  Sorry Holbrook, but proposed South Dakota Constitutional  amendments, like the J.A.I.L. amendment, are by definition state issues.

Alderman cautioned the commission against trying to regulate the content of petitions. He pointed out that the JAIL amendment is not really a California issue because it is being put on the South Dakota ballot. 
Finally, something truthful.

"In that regard, it's legitimately here whether you like the content or not," he said.

Alderman suggested implementing an evenhanded, overall policy regarding all solicitation, not just petition carriers. He also said he doesn't know of anything illegal about paying someone to gather signatures.

The commission voted to have Alderman and administrative assistant Ron Buskerud prepare recommendations for review next week.

Though a total ban on solicitation inside the courthouse is not likely, the commission discussed the possibility of designating a certain area in the courthouse for petition circulation.

"I would be totally opposed with trying to restrict people from talking to people as they come up to the courthouse door, to restrict them from gathering petition signatures for any issue," Commissioner Jim Kjerstad said. "I know there are a lot of issues that require petitioning, so I don't think we should make it terribly hard."

Commissioner Ken Davis said petition circulators are allowed to stand inside the courthouse doors to get signatures, and as long as they are not getting paid per signature, that's fine.

"If they're getting paid to get signatures, I don't agree that the taxpayers should be forced to furnish them an office to do their business in," he said. "I have no problem with allowing people to circulate petitions at the courthouse, but I think that the ways and means should be looked at about how they do that."

Contact Scott Aust at 394-8415 or

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