In one respect Circuit Judge Mark Barnett brought clarity to a vaguely written piece of South Dakota election law last week. He decided the secretary of state must compile “pro” and “con” statements about measures on the statewide election ballot. The judge said the Legislature specifically directed that the secretary of state shall perform that duty and therefore it must be don. That answered the question of whether a “con” statement submitted by state Sen. Stan Adelstein should be added to the voter pamphlet that Secretary of State Jason Gant had already prepared and published for this fall’s general election.
Absentee voting was entering its fourth week when the judge made his ruling Friday. Barnett said it wasn’t too late to add the “con” statement that Adelstein submitted Sept. 26, five days after absentee voting began. “The failure to get complete information out to the first 16,000 (voters) does not somehow negate the obligation to get this legislative-directed information, the other side of the coin, out to the rest of the voters,” Barnett said.
The judge said new pamphlets should be printed and changes made to other media used for distributing the statements. Still unclear are related questions about the law that surfaced during the Adelstein hearing, such as who gets to submit the “pro” and “con” statements, how a secretary of state might choose between competing statements, what the deadline should be for submitting them, and how the secretary of state should try to find people willing to write them.