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A federal judge ruled a law signed last year by Gov. Kristi Noem violates the free speech rights of those who gather signatures in favor of ballot measures.

South Dakota's ballot petition circulator rules held unconstitutional

South Dakota's new regulation of people who circulate petitions for ballot initiatives is unconstitutional, a federal judge has ruled.

The decision, if it withstands a potential appeal, would be a boon for advocates of direct democracy, which relies on small armies of people gathering signatures to put proposed changes to state laws before the entire electorate. Twenty-six states allow such citizen-led ballot measures.

A law signed by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem last year requires petition circulators to register with the secretary of state and provide personal information including home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. But those "extensive and burdensome" disclosure requirements discriminate against those advocating for ballot measures in violation of the First Amendment because the same rules didn't apply to people actively opposing the measures, U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann ruled last week.

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8 places where democracy reform faces the voters on Tuesday

Last year was a really good year for placing democracy reform in the hands of the electorate. This year, not so much.

In the 2018 midterms, ballot proposals adopted in more than a dozen states and cities expanded the use of automatic voter registration, independent redistricting commissions, public financing of campaigns and other democracy reform proposals.

Next week's off-year election will see only a small roster of contests with an expansion of democracy itself on the ballot, and most have relatively narrow scope and limited reach.

But good-government advocates hope a wave of victories creates momentum for a more ambitious roster of proposals to get spots on the ballot alongside the 2020 presidential election.

And while the roster of pro-democracy choices may be limited this Nov. 5, the overall number of direct-democracy opportunities is large. Not since 2007 have so many ballot measures (three dozen) gone before voters in an odd-numbered year, according to Ballotpedia.

Below are the eight items on the ballot next week that good-government advocates are watching most intently — listed alphabetically by where the voting will take place. Four are initiatives in big cities and two are statewide referenda. The others are partisan elections for offices where the future of a reliable and relatable democracy is part of what's in the offing.

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Ballot measures are good democracy — but only if you can understand them

Marginal improvements have been made to help voters understand the questions posed to them on the ballot this November, a new study concludes, but such ballot measures still favor the college-educated — who represent a minority of the U.S. population.

This year voters in eight states will decide the fate of a collective 36 such propositions. In a study released Thursday, Ballotpedia assessed how easy it is to comprehend what each proposal would accomplish, concluding that the difficulty level had decreased compared with the referendums decided in the last off-year election of 2017 — but not by much.

In fact, according to a pair of well-established tests, 21 of the 36 ballot measures cannot be understood by the 40 percent of the voting-age population who never attended college.

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