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.
A ruling is expected this month on the constitutionality of South Dakota's new prohibition on out-of-state contributions to referendum campaigns.
Federal Judge Charles Kornmann says he'll rule before the new campaign finance limit takes effect this summer, and maybe as soon as this week. At a hearing last week, the Brookings Radio network reports, he expressed broad concerns with the measure including that "this thing prohibits contributions in the form of volunteers from out of state."
The curbs on out-of-state donations were approved by 56 percent of South Dakotans in November. The judge is ruling on two lawsuits alleging the new rules violate the First Amendment.