ACLU files federal suit challenging election law change

By James Nord
Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Two small political parties in South Dakota filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging part of a law that they say would make it harder to get their candidates on the ballot.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of the state's Libertarian and Constitution parties, among other individuals. South Dakota activists are also gathering signatures to refer the law to voters in the 2016 election for a possible repeal.

The measure in question, part of a new bundle of election law changes passed during the 2015 legislative session, shifted the deadline back by about a month for new parties to turn in signatures allowing them to participate in a primary election. The lawsuit argues that the deadline is too early and that small political organizations such as the Libertarian and Constitution parties, which often have to re-qualify as new political parties in the state because of low supporter turnout, fundraise best after South Dakota's cold winter months.

"The big part of it is it really is hard to get the signatures at that time, especially for a newly formed party," said Ken Santema, chairman of the state's Libertarian Party.

The plaintiffs are asking the deadline be set no earlier than March 29 - the law changed the deadline to the first Tuesday in March - for a party that wants to participate in a June primary election. Laughlin McDonald, lead counsel on the case for the ACLU, said case law is clear that the early petition deadline is unconstitutional.

Republican Sen. Ernie Otten, who worked on the legislation, said the election law overhaul was meant to ensure that voters have enough time to challenge candidates' nominating petitions to get on the ballot.

The lawsuit names Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and Attorney General Marty Jackley as defendants in their official capacities.

Krebs said she was aware case, but didn't comment further on the lawsuit.

Jackley also said he was aware of the lawsuit and said his office is awaiting the results of the signature-gathering process.

Liberal activist Cory Heidelberger, who is collecting signatures, said the lawsuit only addresses one of the many problems he has with the election law overhaul. The law would also prevent independent candidates from gathering petition signatures from registered Democrats or Republicans.

"This doesn't take pressure off us," Heidelberger said of activists attempting to get the law repealed.

If organizers get enough signatures by June 29, the law would be on hold until the election.

Published: Wed, Jun 17, 2015