In a victory for South Dakotans, a law that places a 30-day residency requirement for ballot initiative petition circulators has been permanently enjoined by a federal court. The League of Women Voters of South Dakota and the League of Women Voters of the United States filed the federal lawsuit challenging the residency requirement provision of South Dakota’s Senate Bill 180 last June. The entire law was struck down by the court in a related case, Dakotans for Health v. Noem on January 10. Late Thursday, the parties in the League’s case agreed that the ruling in the related case resolved the League’s case.
“Ballot initiatives are one key way for the people to enact the change in their communities and an integral part of how the League effects systemic change,” said Cheryl Otto, president of the League of Women Voters of South Dakota. “The removal of the residency requirement for petition circulators is a true victory for citizen-led government.”
“We applaud this outcome because it protects the right of individuals and organizations to engage in political speech,” said Celina Stewart, League of Women Voters of the US chief counsel and senior director of advocacy and litigation. “State governments must be accountable to their people, and when they enact laws which limit or otherwise restrict access and participation to the franchise, it undermines the ability to achieve an inclusive and representative democracy.”
Passed in the South Dakota legislature in 2020, Senate Bill 180 amended the definition of “petition circulator” to require residency in the state for at least thirty days prior to petitioning. The League filed on the grounds that the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution as well as the South Dakota Constitution by harming Plaintiffs’ right to engage in political speech.
“This is a win for ballot initiatives and citizen input across the nation. This decision reinforces the fundamental, constitutional nature of citizen access to governance in our democracy. We are happy to see the ballot initiative process strengthened in South Dakota and look forward to the future wins to come for citizen-led initiatives,” said Katie Fahey, individual plaintiff on the case and executive director of The People, a national organization that helps citizens navigate ballot initiatives and the political process.
The Leagues were represented by Steptoe and Johnson LLP and local counsel Heidepriem, Purtell, Siegel, Hinrichs.